Dr. Michael Coe is the Charles J. MacCurdy professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University and curator emeritus of the Division of Anthropology at the school’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is an expert on the Maya, who inhabited the same part of Mexico and Central American where Mormon scholars say the events of the Book of Mormon took place. In this interview, Coe discusses the challenges facing Mormon archaeologists attempting to prove the historical truth of their central scripture and his own views on Joseph Smith.

A few resources from the interview include:

A follow-up interview with Dr. Michael Coe has been released in April 2018.  You may find this interview here.


  1. Joe Geisner August 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    I have not listened to teh podcast, but THREE HOURS of Michael Coe, I believe they call this heaven.

    This is wonderful John, thank you very much for doing this interview and making it available to people like myself.

    You are amazing.

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Joe – One of the most enjoyable 3 years of my life…so my pleasure.


      • Chris Smith August 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm - Reply

        Is this three years, or three hours? Because I might be able to spare the latter, but the former’s a bit much.

        • Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm - Reply

          Oooops. My bad!

      • Joe Geisner August 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm - Reply

        I have now listened to most of the three hours and I can honestly say this is the best interview and/or podcast on a Mormon subject that I have listened to, thank you John.

         Michael Coe’s honesty and humor are completely engaging and his knowledge of Meso-America is unmatched. My only complaint, and it is minor, is that the two of you could have spent more time of the Indian people and culture. Ten or so years ago I was able to attend the Maya art exhibit at the Palace of Legion of Honor. I was both shocked at my ignorance and amazed at the complex culture of the Maya people. They are one of the most interesting people in the history of the world, I would suggest that the are comparable to the Chinese when it comes to being a great culture during their time of influence.

  2. Hermes August 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    Great podcast.  I loved the bit in the third section about living in two different worlds (the faithful and the scientific).  It can be very disorienting trying to create bridges between the romantic and the classic (to use the terminology of Robert Pirsig), especially if you do not realize that the world is always bigger than your view of it (as I did not for too many years).

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      I liked that part too. That’s why I’ve never been too into archaeological evidence of the BoM (for or against) and especially the idea of having a department like FARMS. When it gets right down to it, it’s looking for rational evidence to explain an irrational phenomenon. All religion is irrational. No rational evidence, really, can fully prove or disprove it’s validity. Now, to qualify that, I do think that it can detract or add to someone’s already existing belief. But in the end, it’s entirely illogical to pursue scientific data to completely prove a religious premise or proposition.

      I agree in using probability to gauge, scientifically at least, whether a religious proposition is true or not, but to look for evidence to completely prove that a religion or philosphy is true or false is, ultimately, a huge waste of time (in my opinion). I also realize how hypocritical this is considering how much time I spend studying Mormon history (and listening to podcasts like this).

      • Evan August 13, 2011 at 1:27 am - Reply

        Yes, but you have to get into the mind of a true believer. If you REALLY believe the reality claims of your religion, then it makes perfect sense that you’d want to find evidence that will convince the rest of the world. What surprises me is that there are not MORE people who try to look for evidence to support their religion. Which makes me think that doubts are very widespread.

      • Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 12:02 am - Reply

        Don’t you agree that a certain religion (and not the existence of God) can be easily disproven? In my mind, if one claims to be a prophet and says something in the name of (his) Lord, and that thing is incorrect, then the religion is also not true. This was how I so easily lost my testimony and never recovered it. All it took was one thing of that nature.

        You can’t prove a religion, but in my scientific mind, you can disprove one very easily.

        • Hermes August 15, 2011 at 10:07 pm - Reply

          Abstract, objective truth can be disproven, but concrete, subjective experience cannot.  To put it another way, religions (as languages with the capacity to express objective and subjective ideas that may or may not be true) are neither true nor false: they are just there.  If you reduce religion to dogma (abstract, objective truth), then it becomes bad science (because it is always behind the times, often centuries behind).  But if you see it as a way of being human (integrating individual and community; creating a narrative that contains childhood, adolescence, maturity, and senescence), then it is not really “true” or “false” in an objective (falsifiable) sense.  It may prove unhelpful or maladaptive and die out (as languages do), but that is more a matter of fashion (and historical accident) than anything else.  (If all we cared about was objective truth, we would be a different species.  Life would be totally different.)

          The thing is, many “religious” people don’t really care how old the world is, who did what when, or what magic powers they or their leaders allegedly possess.  They just know that certain rituals draw them and their loved ones together (integrating them as whole persons with life histories in an established community), and they like this (the way a pianist likes playing the piano, or a painter likes painting: Bach is not more true or false than Flogging Molly; he is just older, a little different, in a different genre, etc.).  They use religion to express who they are.  Sometimes, unfortunately, they are nasty people.  Sometimes they are not.  Sometimes, they get hung up trying to assert that their way of being religious is better than other ways (with or without any good reason): this often leads them to dogmatize (and make bad science, since most of us human beings are bad scientists).  As one of these people myself, I think the ultimate solution requires more than simple refutation (disproving God in the abstract); you have to engage people personally, find out what it is in their unique, subjective experience which makes God a good coping mechanism, and then help them preserve the good that God does for them even as they let go of whatever bad God may also be causing them.  Generally speaking, when people have no need of God it is because they have managed to integrate themselves (individually and communally) without him (or her or it); believers, on the other hand, rely on God to integrate themselves, and require viable substitutes (that they can trust on a visceral level) before they let go of a familiar concept that anchors their life (which is more than just a sloppy worldview cobbled together from sporadic scripture-reading and sermonizing: this is just a tool they use to enable them to do what they really do, i.e. live as whole individuals in a working community).  

          • Evan August 16, 2011 at 2:56 am

            “As one of these people myself, I think the ultimate solution requires more than simple refutation (disproving God in the abstract); you have to engage people personally, find out what it is in their unique, subjective experience which makes God a good coping mechanism, and then help them preserve the good that God does for them even as they let go of whatever bad God may also be causing them.”

            This depends on what your goals are. If your primary goal is the truth, then this counsel will fall on deaf ears. If your primary goal is emotional well being in others, then this counsel will likely be accepted and embraced. I think one’s goals are largely a function of personality. Hallelujahx2 may be in the former camp.

          • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm

            Yes.  All people whose goal is the (abstract, objective) truth and nothing but the (abstract, objective) truth will be obliged to be agnostics (leaning heavily towards atheism).  They will only care about falsifiable propositions.  They will only know what is not true.  (Every hypothesis is only provisionally true for them, i.e. true until it proves false.)  But that does not mean that they will escape their biology; they will still need to interact on a regular basis with many others who couldn’t give two figs for (abstract, objective) truth really, even though they think they do (because they grew up with concrete, subjective truth masquerading as abstract, objective truth).  I am just trying to help myself (and people like me) relate meaningfully to these people.

          • Evan August 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm

            I agree with you. And I think what you’re doing is great. I’m just cautioning you against spending too much time and effort trying to communicate with people who may not be receptive to your message.

          • Anonymous August 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

            I’m actually in both camps. I think the truth and emotional well-being need to evolve into one.

          • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 5:10 pm

            Me too.  All of us make emotional judgments (at some point): reason is a little candle that shines very bright over a small area, but it is always behind the times.  If we waited for all the data to come in before we did anything, loved anything, committed to anything, we would die empty and meaningless (as few of us actually do).  Agnostics, atheists, scientists, liberals, etc., are all people too: they like stories, community, service, family, church, etc.  It will be interesting to see how the coming century integrates the increasingly intellectual approach to life evident in the modern world (Pirsig’s classic) with an abiding humanity (Pirsig’s romantic). 

          • Evan August 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm

            I still don’t think you fully appreciate the diversity of individuals. People are not as similar as you think. As an example, stories have little effect on me. I never watch tv or movies (unless it’s the occasional documentary) and I never read fiction (all my reading material is nonfiction). Myths and legends do not interest me. And I’m not very interested in interacting with people in my community (unless there is a specific goal or problem). Church (of any kind) has never interested me. I remember LDS church services being excruciatingly boring for me when I was younger. I’m the type of person who, while watching an emotional scene in a movie, will point out a continuity error in the background.  :-)

            It’s natural to project one’s personal emotional landscape to everyone else. But I think it is an error to do so.

          • Hermes August 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

            I don’t think we disagree or differ as much as you seem to think.  Maybe we mean different things when we say words like “emotion”?  You have tastes, I presume, and eat things that taste good (to you)?  If you do this, then at some point you are irrational (not that that is at all bad), making an innocent choice between this and that merely because you can and something in you inclines (for whatever reason) this way or that.  There is no magic personality that can elude basic human biology (or the limitations inherent in the human condition, which does not allow any of us to be wholly rational, no matter what our tastes in food, clothes, or ideologies may be).  When I say people are irrational, I am including the most rational among us: they fight the chains, but are still bound by them.  That is why science is about falsifying hypotheses, and no hypothesis is ever perfect.

          • Evan August 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

            When I speak of emotionality, I’m using the word in a psychological sense. There are many personality models out there, but according to the HEXACO model, emotionality is (from their website):

            “Emotionality: Persons with very high scores on the Emotionality scale experience fear of physical dangers, experience anxiety in response to life’s stresses, feel a need for emotional support from others, and feel empathy and sentimental attachments with others.  Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale are not deterred by the prospect of physical harm, feel little worry even in stressful situations, have little need to share their concerns with others, and feel emotionally detached from others.”

            Emotionality in the HEXACO model is similar to a combination of neuroticism and agreeableness in the Big Five model. It is also similar to the thinker/feeler dichotomy in the Myers-Briggs typology (though I’m not a big fan of the Myers-Briggs system).

          • Hermes August 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm

            Thanks!  This is helpful.

        • Kerri March 9, 2012 at 1:22 am - Reply

           Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. In recent years as I read the scriptures, I’m struck with how imperfect the prophets were. How many times is Moses chastised for his actions? Peter’s recorded mistakes are numerous, despite the fact that it was he in whom Christ trusted the Church after his ascension. And this is what is recorded so that people can learn from it. It’s not some dark, hidden secret. If it applied to the ancient prophets and apostles, I cannot see why it doesn’t apply in the modern era. Speaking specifically of Joseph Smith, stories of divine correction are not unheard of.

      • Anonymous August 25, 2011 at 10:24 pm - Reply

        [Disclosure: haven’t listened yet.]

        Let’s not forget, the church for most of its existence has put out the challenge that the Book of Mormon is either exactly what it claims to be, or it’s a fraud. The church itself has invited testing the authenticity of the book. Now that things aren;t going so well for the Book of Mormon, suddenly they’re going to change the rules and say testing it doesn’t matter?

        Nuh-uh! You made your bed, church, now lie in it.

        • Gary April 4, 2020 at 4:34 pm - Reply

          Excellent comment and reasoning. Thank you.

      • Gary April 4, 2020 at 4:32 pm - Reply

        If I understand your comments, you think it a waste of time to use scientific fact to validate religious claims. You would rather live in a world of pseudoscience, fantasy and assumptions. Wow!

  3. Steve Park August 12, 2011 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Excellent podcast!  I’ve read Search for the Gold Plates and B.H. Roberts’ Studies of the Book of Mormon, and I still learned a few things.

    Would there be any way to find out who the one believing serious archaeologist is that Dr. Coe referred to in the third section in order to invite her or him to participate in a podcast?

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 8:08 pm - Reply

      That’s a great idea.

    • downey_90240 August 17, 2011 at 11:23 pm - Reply

      Haven’t had a chance to finish the whole interview, yet. But he could be referring to BYU and NWAF Mesoamerican archaeologists, such as John Clark, Don Forsyth, Ray Matheny or others who have been and are currently working in and around Chiapas, Mexico and northern Guatemala. John Clark, especially, is one of the preeminent authorities on the Olmec, a believing member, and (as a former student of his) an exceptional critical thinker and writer.

      • John September 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm - Reply

        Ha, I know who this is! I won’t reveal your identity other than to say GO ANGELS! Am I right?

  4. Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    yeah, excellent interview. I’m only through the first podcast and he seems to do a good job of proving that BoM wasn’t in Mesoamerica. Guess we should go drill in northeastern Columbia……..

  5. Patrick August 12, 2011 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Anyone having trouble playing episode 269 through iTunes?

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Patrick – Do you ever download? Things are always slow the day of and after I release a podcast episode, FWIW.

  6. Elizabethammond August 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Any sense what he thinks about claims for chiastic structure as a Hebrew linguistic device in the BoM?  Or if chiastic structure exhibits in any mesoAmerican literatures?

    • Elizabethammond August 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm - Reply

      Oops just found it in the 3rd section!

      • Elizabethammond August 13, 2011 at 12:07 am - Reply

        Awesome podcast.

        As I remember word print was a big thing when I was at BYU – that word print studies identify multiple authors on the BoM and also the Bible, mostly correlating to the dfferent books (except Isaiah have 3 authors).  I still wonder is Chiastic structure is found in mesoamerican literature (he referred to couplets and triplets but not chiasmus specifically) and also if ancient texts could be studied for word print.  Or has word printing been debunked?

  7. Anonymous August 12, 2011 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    I wish he’d provide some proof or links to articles on the spanish making up the Cortez being Quetzalcoatl story [re min 12:40], that the Spaniards came up with that……..very interesting new theory to me. I always thought that it was the Aztecs who first told Cortez that they considered him Quetzalcoatl and the cunning Cortez thought he’d hit the jackpot!

  8. Evan August 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    In this podcast, Dr. Coe says how remarkable he thought Joseph Smith was for authoring the Book of Mormon. It was not discussed, but there is a very plausible theory (at least to me) that the Book of Mormon was primarily written by two individuals: Solomon Spalding and Sidney Rigdon. According to the Spalding-Rigdon theory, Solomon Spalding wrote an unpublished manuscript (fiction) which contained the historical content of the Book of Mormon. Sidney Rigdon then took this manuscript and weaved in his own Campbellite theology to it. And the result was the Book of Mormon. Then, according to the theory, Sidney Rigdon colluded with Joseph Smith to form the Mormon church–with Joseph Smith being the frontman. So, according to the Spalding-Rigdon theory, Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon at all (or at least he contributed very little to it). It’s a very interesting theory that has some evidence to support it.

    • Ben West August 13, 2011 at 12:02 am - Reply

      Elder Holland already disproved the Spaulding/Rigdon theory.  So no need to even consider it any further.  Keep moving along.  There’s nothing to see here. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.


      • Evan August 13, 2011 at 12:48 am - Reply

        I read the article that you referenced, but there was no substantive case against the Spalding-Rigdon theory in it. Holland did say “would these men [Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith] blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?…They would not do that! They were willing to die rather deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” But Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were not given that choice (deny the Book of Mormon or die). Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced that Joseph Smith knew he was going to be killed when he voluntarily submitted to arrest. In any case, the article you referenced did not directly address the Spalding-Rigdon theory at all.

        • Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm - Reply

          True but really saying today that Spaulding is related to the BoM is like saying that Laurance of Arabia is the source of
          inspiration for the bible!  apples and oranges….coincidence at times not at others….

          However the one to ask this question  is to God himself…..we don’t need to prove or disprove Spaulding to continue
          preaching the BoM because conversion depends on a Spiritual event and not some conspiracy theory.

          • Evan August 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm

            But the BoM makes innumerable reality claims (if it is to be taken as nonfiction). The idea that it is ok to dismiss or ignore all those reality claims is completely foreign to me. I just don’t understand how someone can do that.

            And, yes, the Spalding-Rigdon theory is a conspiracy theory. But it seems to me that you almost need a conspiracy theory to explain the origins of the BoM. The creation of the BoM was an unusual event. And, therefore, the details behind it will probably have to be somewhat complicated.

          • Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm

            yes, but its also plausible to just say that Joseph Smith wrote it as any fiction author would.

            Actually that probably makes more sense to me than the Spaulding theory, after reading the spaulding’s work.

            The BoM does make ‘reality claims’, however, although there isn’t any evidence of it or of the Nephites, that doesn’t as yet mean they never existed. Kind of like the dilemma of proving Gods existence, won’t happen any time soon.

          • Evan August 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm

            According the Spalding-Rigdon theory there was a second manuscript called “Manuscript Found” that is non-extant. It is this manuscript that the Book of Mormon was based on–according to the theory.

            If you want to learn more about the Spalding-Rigdon theory there’s a book entitled “Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?” by Wayne Cowdery, et al. I also found two video presentations on Youtube about it. One is entitled “Authorship – Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?” by Dr. Craig Criddle and another one is entitled “Unraveling the Spalding-Rigdon Theory” by Robert Hancock.

            Lastly, I think you underestimate the evidence that is available. It is not just that there is no evidence of the Nephites; but, instead, there is substantial evidence that there were no Nephites. Those are two very different things.

          • Anonymous August 14, 2011 at 1:44 am

            Yeah, I’ve heard about the second one that’s mysteriously still missing.

            However why is it that we do have to accept that theory but reject Rigdon’s many statements that he became interest in mormonism After reading the BoM? why ignore the fact that he never wrote anywhere that the spaulding theory was true or could be the case, even after leaving the church? or that he only traveled to Palmyra in september 1830 after the BoM was published? and there’s Oliver Cowdery who always kept to the story that he was Smith’s scribe in 1829?

            We could go back and forth for hours here but all I ask is why do you guys -the doubters?- always accept anything critical of Smith or his story and not accept anything he said? I guess when you start from the premise “Smith lied” then it’s easy to accept a very weak theory like the Spaulding-Rigdon manuscript.

          • Evan August 14, 2011 at 3:15 am

            I don’t consider Sidney Rigdon a credible person. He is known to have lied on several occasions. Furthermore, if he was the architect of the BoM–which is what the Spalding-Rigdon theory says–then of course he would want to cover up its origins. And after the succession crisis, he started his own branch of Mormonism (the Rigdonites) which still used the BoM. So if the theory is true, then it is understandable that he would not want to reveal the secret origins of the BoM. And perhaps Oliver Cowdery was Smith’s scribe. According to the Spalding-Rigdon theory, Rigdon’s manuscript (or parts thereof) were given to Joseph Smith to dictate to his scribe. If the theory is true, then the screen that was sometimes used to separate Smith from his scribe was really used to obscure the fact that Smith was reading documents that were given to him from Rigdon. And perhaps he had Rigdon fragments in his hat when it was necessary to be more theatrical. If this translation process involved the destruction of the original Rigdon manuscript, then you can see why Smith (and perhaps Rigdon) were so upset when the first 116 pages were lost.

            In any case, I don’t think the Spalding-Rigdon theory is definitive. It is, however, a very interesting candidate theory for the origins of the BoM. And I don’t accept any theory that is critical of Smith a priori. The only reason why I think the Spalding-Rigdon theory is interesting is because of its explanatory powers and because there is some evidence to support it.

          • Brian August 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

            “I don’t consider Sidney Rigdon a credible person. He is known to have lied on several occasions”

            I hope that’s not the standard you’re setting for Joseph Smith.

          • Brian August 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

            “I don’t consider Sidney Rigdon a credible person. He is known to have lied on several occasions”

            I hope that’s not the standard you’re setting for Joseph Smith.

          • Anonymous August 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

            Yeah,..while your comment makes sense logically, reading it I still get the impression that its all a “maybe this, maybe that” with very little proof. And sure, Rigdon may not be a creditable person but after his failures with his new church and subsequent problems the common sense explanation would be that at some point he’d tell the truth on Spaulding, if indeed it was the case. But he never diverted from his belief of the supernatural origins of the BoM nor of what he saw with Smith, like the vision of Jesus, Moses and others in the Kirtland Temple, and he didn’t deny it all because he had that spiritual testimony of the BoM and he did indeed see that vision inside the Kirtland Temple.

          • Evan August 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm

            I think you need to study the Spalding-Rigdon theory more. There are a bunch of statements from various people that Sidney Rigdon had Spalding’s manuscript (including his niece, grandson, and others), that the Spalding manuscript had BoM names, narratives, etc. (but no religious content), that Rigdon had close ties with the Pittsburgh printing press that held Spalding’s manuscript, that Rigdon had foreknowledge of the BoM, and that Rigdon knew Joseph Smith earlier than 1830. And there is more evidence besides.

          • Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm

            “Rigdon had foreknowledge of the BoM, and that Rigdon knew Joseph Smith earlier than 1830”

            There is simply no evidence to support that apart from gossip and innuendo from the enemies of Smith and the church. But there is evidence to show that they met in late 1830. Anti-Smither’s have no limits, simply making things up to discredit him, and only because they don’t believe the ‘prophet’  label.

          • Evan August 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm

            According to several letters and statements, Sidney Rigdon said a book would soon be released that explained the Indians and other important things. The following are the names of the people who wrote these letters and statements (there may be more):
            – Darwin Atwater
            – Dr. Storm Rosa
            – Adamson Bentley
            – Thomas Clapp
            – John Rudolph
            – Reuben P. Harmon

            These people were acquaintances and parishioners of Sidney Rigdon. I’m not aware of the details of these sources or how credible they are. But it is not just “gossip and innuendo”.

          • Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 11:27 pm

            from memory i think it was fawn brodie (not the mormon’s best friend) who wrote that these letters where all far too similar to be true , and that they seems dictated. but this is from memory so i could be wrong..

          • Evan August 16, 2011 at 1:58 am

            You are probably thinking of the E. D. Howe statements. The letters I referred to were not in E. D. Howe’s book nor did Brodie address them in her book. Also, Brodie’s book came out in 1944. There has been a substantial amount of additional research that has been done on the Spalding-Rigdon theory since then.

      • Claus von Bülow August 13, 2011 at 1:08 am - Reply

        Yeah, cause if Elder Holland said it, it *has* to be true.

        • Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 1:02 pm - Reply

          Very good Claus….you are starting to “see the light”!!!

      • Evan August 13, 2011 at 7:11 am - Reply

        I just realized that you were probably being sarcastic.   :-)

      • Brian August 14, 2011 at 12:07 am - Reply

        “Elder Holland already disproved the Spaulding/Rigdon theory.”

        Disproved? Was there ANYTHING in that talk beyond an argument from ignorance? And if Joseph Smith cared so damn much about the Book of Mormon, why did he never bother quote from “the most correct book on earth?”

        • Ben West August 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm - Reply

          See confirmation of sarcasm in original post.

          • Brian August 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

            Hahahaha – *ZOOOM* Right over my head. Funny!

  9. Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 2:47 am - Reply

    Ok. That does it. This finally took me over the top. I have donated $100. Finally. 

    John, thanks for sharing your journey.

  10. Joshuapackard August 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Great podcast John! Dr Coe was fascinating, and you did a great job at drawing out interesting and relevant points. One of your best ever. 

    Dr Coe lightly touched on the genetic evidence that Native Americans are descended from Asia (rather than the Middle East). Maybe you could get a molecular biologists/geneticist (Dr. Southerton perhaps) to do a podcast about this relevant evidence? 

    • Mike Conder August 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      I have a friend I rock climb with who is an Assistant BYU professor and has her PhD from Harvard in genetics. Should I find out what she thinks?

    • downey_90240 August 17, 2011 at 11:55 pm - Reply

      Though still greatly under-sampled, the vast majority of modern Native Americans possess segments of their genome that are distinctive but most similar to those of modern East Asians. The most studied portions solely track matri- and patrilines. While Southerton, or even Murphy, might have interesting stories to tell regarding their changing Mormon identity due to their perceived problems with traditional interpretation, the issue would be better addressed by current scientists who actively research in human population history and genetics and are also familiar with the Book of Mormon question (e.g., Ugo Perego comes to mind off the top of my head).

  11. Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    “Stinging denunciation of the book of mormon”……yeap, accurate description. I think Dr Coe could qualify as a twin brother to Grant Palmer……!! (Although I’d judge him to be a good decent gentleman; nothing personal my criticism)

    I agree though that it isn’t science. No argument there…..its more about the supernatural than science. And morality is one of the main objectives of the BoM!

    • Mike Conder August 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      I have a friend I rock climb with who is an Assistant BYU professor and has her PhD from Harvard in genetics. Should I find out what she thinks?

      • Anonymous August 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm - Reply

        Yes!!!!!! Then email me!!!

        • downey_90240 August 18, 2011 at 12:23 am - Reply

          There are several highly regarded Mormon scientists (esp. geneticists) who would have interesting stories to tell as well as get at the heart of the genetics and the Book of Mormon issue:
          John Butler – expert on forensic DNA typing and fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology
          David McClellan – specialist in molecular adaptation and evolutionary bioinformatics at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
          Michael Whiting – evolutionary geneticist and director of BYU’s DNA Sequencing Center
          Ugo Perego – human geneticist and senior researcher at Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation
          … among others.

          As a PhD candidate researching in this combo-field of archaeology and genetics I have come to find more and more that given the current state of things–with gaps in knowledge on the population history and dynamics of past Native Americans–this whole issue is moot and fruitless, but also harmless… unless you believe in a hemispherical model ; ) As of right now, any perceived issue with genetics and the Book of Mormon shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a Mormon in the midst of a crisis of faith.

  12. DorothyP August 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Really great interview. Excellent questions, too. I wish the PBS series had been half this interesting,

  13. Alexis August 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you, John Dehlin. I stopped believing a few years ago, but your podcasts have helped me get to a healthier place where I can be supportive of my family’s continued involvement with Mormonism. 

    If anyone can bridge the disparity between believers and non-believers, it would be you. Hopefully, the day will come when people from different areas of the faith spectrum can all get along. 

    • Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Alexis! Very kind of you to write.

  14. New2podcasts August 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Great podcast with information that is usable, believable, explanatory and based on evidentual facts. Yes , I too suported the “corporation” and not only showed the filmstrips but also bought the projector and filmstripsto show to investigators.

  15. Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    I went to see Gareth Lowe in 2002 in Tucson, AZ (director of NWAF 56-59, 61 -75), but he did not come to the door. His wife answered and we chatted about an article by Hampton Sides in Doubletake in which he interviews Gareth Lowe about the NWAF research.  My grandfather who was one of the first mormons to get his PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago always had great respect for the work of NWAF.  It should continue to receive funding.  I have always thought of the book of mormon as a doctrinally rich sacred text teaching powerful christology and teachings on salvation rather than a NW archaeology field guide or history book.  

    • RobF August 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm - Reply

      I worked with Gareth Lowe in Chiapas in 1991.  His is a very complicated story and this isn’t the place for me to really go into it!

  16. Kiskilili August 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Great interview–really fun stuff!

    I shouldn’t do this because it’s so pedantic, but I can’t seem to stop myself. Apologies in advance.

    Old Babylonian, as a dialect, was about a thousand years old in 600 BCE.; it’s very unlikely anyone in Jerusalem at that time could read it. Its descendant, Neo-Babylonian, was probably in the process of being supplanted by Aramaic as the vernacular in Babylonia as a result of widespread incursions of Aramaean tribes from the west.  (The evidence for this process has to be triangulated since languages written in cuneiform, like Akkadian–Babylonian and Assyrian–tend to survive since they’re on clay, but Aramaic documents, written on velum, would have disintegrated in that climate.) As a result, Judahites in captivity in Babylonia shifted from speaking Hebrew to speaking Aramaic, the vernacular around them.

    But 600 is on the verge of the captivity (i.e., before it). Aramaic is attested from the 10th century BCE, but I know of no reason to think Judahites before the captivity were speaking anything other than its close cousin Hebrew. It’s a good bet your average Jerusalemite in 600 spoke Hebrew.

    Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

    • Anonymous August 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      I love, love, love, love (that’s 4 loves) Kiskilili.


  17. living and learning August 14, 2011 at 3:58 am - Reply

    While Dr. Coe fully debunked any connection from the Book of Mormon to current archeological evidence, he also stated that there is no evidence of the Exodus or the Crucifixion. 
    This is the sad tired argument of all atheists who can’t fit spirituality in their toolbox, ……if I can’t see it, it isn’t true.

    • Evan August 14, 2011 at 4:21 am - Reply

      I propose that “spirituality” is actually a personality trait. Some people have lots of it, others have very little or none at all. And most people are somewhere in the middle. To criticize someone for not being spiritual (or being less spiritual) is actually a form of intolerance of which the less spiritual person has little or no control.

    • Sad and tired of theists August 14, 2011 at 4:37 am - Reply

      Better than “if i can’t see it but I really really want it to be true maybe it is true!”

    • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      The problem is not so much that I cannot see it as that I cannot help seeing other things where it claims to exist.  The Maya are real people, with a real culture, a real geography, a real history with many fascinating stories.  We lose something when we suppress their story to continue pretending that a nineteenth-century fairy tale might be true history (as we define this in the twenty-first century).  Likewise, the Jews and early Christians were real people too, with a real culture, a real geography, and a real history (including many legends of miracles).  The more we ignore information about their real lives (past and present), the more impoverished our viewpoint.  I wanted the legends to be true (all of them), and believing that they were (abstractly, objectively) true (the way I learned them), I spent the last 10 years pursuing a doctorate in the humanities (researching Greek and Roman civilization), expecting that I would emerge as a qualified apologist for Christian and Mormon legends as viable historical readings of antiquity.

      My first serious paper as an undergrad was a 44-page manifesto (with more than 100 footnotes) arguing that the Exodus really happened.  Even then, the best I could do was say that it might have happened.  Today, with much more reading done (on both sides of the argument), I don’t think it did, largely because there is no singular “it” in reality: there are multiple versions of the Exodus myth.  Which one of them is the one and only truth?  The same problem comes up with the myth of the Crucifixion. At some point, I realized that what really spoke to me in the scriptures was not their objective, historical reality, but the human emotions they channeled in me (i.e. the subjective, concrete experiences I had while contemplating losing everything to save other people).  I liked sharing those emotions with other people.  I liked singing.  I liked being with friends and family.  I liked serving other people and feeling like part of a community bound together by something more than material profit or private, personal gain (not that those have no place in church per se).  Why pretend like this reality has to depend on the historical truth of myths (including the latest “true histories”)?  Am I really only charitable, sociable, or whatever only because Moses did this or Christ did that in antiquity?  Really?  When I looked deep into my soul, it seemed to me that my religion as a faithful believer had much more to do with personal moral choices (i.e. my own history) than with ancient history (which may or may not have happened: if it did happen, we can be almost certain we do not know exactly how).

      • Anonymous August 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm - Reply

        Hermes rules.

        • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm - Reply

          Thanks for the love, John.  I appreciate it.

      • living and learning August 16, 2011 at 4:18 pm - Reply

        That was beautiful.    Definitely something to think about today. 
        Thanks for sharing that.

        • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm - Reply

          Thank you, and you are welcome.

    • Buffalo August 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      This is the sad tired argument of all theists who can’t fit evidence  in their toolbox. If I don’t like the evidence, I’ll pretend it’s not important. 

  18. Cindy August 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    I was confused about the landing of Lehi and the Book of Mormon until I watched the dvd
    DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geographyby Rod Meldrum .

    He presents the theory that Lehi  landed in the gulf of Mexico and the the river Sidon is actually the Mississippi and the narrow neck is actually
    land between two of the Great Lakes.

    Also there is DNA evidence of European dna in the Alquonquian and several Midwestern Indian tribes of a DNA X factor.

    Check out this site below for more info.


    This has pulled a few pieces of the puzzle together for me.

    • Buffalo August 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm - Reply

      The X genotype made it’s way into the Americans thousands and thousands of years before the Nephites or the Jaredites. 

    • downey_90240 August 18, 2011 at 12:33 am - Reply

      The X2a matriline (the one that Meldrum is trying to reference) not only predates the Lehites in North America but also is unique to the New World and distinct from European or Middle Eastern X’s (though the nomenclature might make it seem otherwise). In looking for anything to bolster his theory, Meldrum jumped the gun on that one.

    • Carey September 2, 2011 at 3:51 am - Reply

      As much as I wish this were the case a casual google search turned of a scathing review from the Maxwell Institute that refutes the scientists and there methods found at that website  https://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=22&num=1&id=793

  19. er August 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm - Reply


    I’m about half way through the interviews, so by my own comment I should withold judgement until finishing the entire podcast, however as much as I appreciate, respect and welcome the open dialogue and Dr. Coe’s experience and insight, I found the information, or at least the depth of discussion to be underwhelming. Also as much as I am no defender of the Church’s nearly 200 years of misguidance and mis-direction on this topic, and cannot support lots of what comes out of FAIR – still I think that Dr. Coe was too quick to gloss over large sections of potential areas of discrepancy with a broad brush. 

    Perhaps its his right and prerogative as an expert in the field however it doesn’t make for a very scientific discussion. Again I’m not saying there aren’t huge problems of historicity with the B of M – however at the same time I am well aware that human scientific endeavors are by no means complete. The same logic and methodology of ‘wait and see’ after years of tedious research I think should be maintained even if it is thought that all the research has been done and put to bed. 

    I am no scientist, not even an amateur one however I am an avid reader, and amateur investigator, and am always fascinated to open the newspaper one morning about every 3 – 5 years and read about something like the Coelacanth which was thought to be extinct for 65 million years – and was then found alive and well in 1938.  Again I’m no apologist but is it less plausible therefore that evidence for other animals (like elephants/mammoths) having survived the ice age perhaps in very small numbers down to a couple thousand years BC and that we still haven’t found evidence for it yet?  Again I feel like I’m a logical, critically minded person, and frankly this just doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch – and not unlike the case of  the Ceolacanth or many other such ‘fossils’. 

     My argument really is that Dr. Coe, while although very intelligent, and an expert in his field reminds me completely of a professor I had in college at the U of U who was a physics professor. He was very satisfied with his positions of pschyo acoustics and couldn’t be dissuaded or persuaded to consider new evidence or information since he formulated his thesis and written his book last updated in 1988.  Listening to your conversation with Dr. Coe reminds me of the hours I spent talking with Dr. Symko about why redbook CD sample rates were not the maximum resolution format required to create a realistic illusion of fidelity to the human ear. It was only 6 short years later than CD was quickly determined insufficient by high res DVD audio formats, recently supplanted by higher res Blu-Ray (HD-DVD) and Sony DSD Super Audio Direct Stream Digital, etc.  My prof was a bonafide industry expert – sure than the pinnacle of digital recording, encoding and playback had been reached – but it was obviously too soon to declare victory. The same should be the case here with Dr. Coe in some instances with B of M – perhaps some day absolute proof will be attained of its unacceptability by archaeology – but in meantime I think prudency recommends against too sweeping a conviction either way.  

     As much as humans are very smart, and science, logic and study are elemental tools of understanding our world, they are by no means infallible – and I think we should be as careful with their use as with the use of blindly using the tools of faith to completely shape our understanding of the world and how it works. Just my 2 cents. 

    • Julian August 15, 2011 at 1:06 am - Reply

      er, Thanks for including your 2 cents. I agree with you and would like to add in my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

      First off, a shout out to John –  I appreciate and admire the way you are able to articulate and format your questions when interviewing someone such as Dr. Coe. Thanks again for all the time and effort you put into your work and these podcasts. I enjoyed listening to Dr. Coe’s opinions/theories about the B of M and the Mayan Culture – so much so that I have now listened to all of them 3 times.
      In the Podcasts, Dr. Coe mentions Thomas Stewart Ferguson.  I was married to Thomas Stewart Ferguson’s grandson, Derek Ferguson, who passed away in 1997.  Nevertheless, I continue to be very close with the Ferguson family.  I have visited the parts of Meso America that Dr. Coe mentions Thomas S. Ferguson was involved in excavating/researching, have listened and discussed with family members regarding his relationship and feelings towards the church in general and more specifically the B of M., and found myself feeling very defensive with regard to Dr. Coe’s explanation of how, in his opinion, Thomas S. Ferguson became disaffected and lost his belief in the church over time due to the lack of  B of M evidence produced.  This is not how I believe the Ferguson family would depict his relationship and feelings for the church,  or the B of M. and I was hurt by his pronouncements.
      Knowing that I am listening to someone revered in his knowlege of Archaelology and the Maya civilization, I agree with er, I felt he “glossed over large sections of potiential areas of discrepancy with a broad stroke” and found myself dishearted and frusterated by what I felt was a “that’s not worth the effort to discuss further” attitude.
      At one point,  Dr. Coe discusses the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith papyrus that he supposedly translated into the B of A. Although this topic does not pertain to Maya Archaeology, Dr. Coe in my opinon, presents his opinion regarding the J.S. papyrus as factual.  He discussed this again, using such broad strokes, it made me question  if he had enough knowledge/research regarding the collection of scrolls and mummies J.S. had to be discussing it so authoritatively. He then proceeds to factually conclude his knowledge concerning the Papyri as additional proof Joseph Smith was a fraud. (He also states that this is what ultimately led to Thomas Ferguson disbelief in the church and in the B of M. – which is not accurate). 
      er, I think you said it best;  “As much as humans are very smart, and science, logic and study are elemental tools of understanding our world, they are by no means infallible – and I think we should be as careful with their use as with the use of blindly using the tools of faith (and may I add pride) to completely shape our understanding of the world and how it works”.  

      • Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 3:23 am - Reply


        I would love to talk to you or someone else about Mr. Ferguson. If Dr. Coe has it wrong about Mr. Ferguson, so do a looooot of other people….so if Mr. Ferguson is being misrepresented, the record needs to be cleared up by those who have the data/evidence to do so.

        Please help us right this wrong if you can. And thanks for writing.

        John Dehlin

        • NQR August 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm - Reply

          A step in this direction was already taken by Dan Peterson and Matt Roper, in a review of Quest for the Gold Plates by Stan Larson, I doubt anyone in the “uncorrelated Mormon” crowd noticed or gave much thought to it though. It’s available here:


          Peterson spoke to TSF’s son and discussed it. They come to the conclusion that TSF probably lost his testimony, but that the evidence is more ambiguous than folks like Larson and Coe would have us believe. If there is more to this story that suggests that TSF did not lose his testimony, I too would love to hear it. 

    • Evan August 15, 2011 at 2:44 am - Reply

      I think you’re making over-generalizations here. The reality is that science (that is, the scientific consensus) is uncertain about some things, moderately confident about others, and completely certain (or virtually certain) about still others. And then, of course, there’s everything in-between those positions. Caution is warranted on some scientific theories, but not on others. I mean, should one be cautious of the existence of gravity? No, that would be silly. There is too much evidence to support the existence of gravity.

      I think the correct course is to not use sweeping generalizations about science or man when analyzing an issue. Instead, one should investigate and analyze the specific issue at hand.

      • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

        Yes.  The more we know about real native Americans, the harder it becomes to see them as Lamanites.  I think it is safe to say that the Lord of the Rings is as likely to be true history as the Book of Mormon.  Both are interesting cultural artifacts showing many traits common to records of historical peoples.  The only difference is that no one seriously believes that Tolkien’s hobbits were the ancestral British.  The real British are a little too present for that.  The more we know about all the pre-Columbian tribes, the less we can believe myths that contradict what we know (not because we haven’t found enough Old World widgets in the New yet, but because we have studied culture enough to see the difference between stories people tell about themselves and stories other people tell about them).

  20. Andre August 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    The best podcast ever on Mormon Stories. Thank you John Dehlin for putting this together. However, I think it would be fair to have a faithful accredited Mormon scholar respond to this.

    • Kevin August 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Mormon apologists are always responding to findings such as those presented by Coe. They’ve been doing so for decades.

      Just go to FAIR, the Maxwell Institute, or the new Mormon Defense League (which is the latest attempt to borrow from organizations like the Jewish Defense League, thus implying that criticism of LDS doctrine is as irrational and offensive as anti-Semitism). Their responses are unconvincing.

      Except, perhaps, to those who have been convinced that the BoM must be wrong if the apologists are presenting the best arguments available to support it.

  21. Living and Learning August 15, 2011 at 2:36 am - Reply

    John, I know that Dr. Coe’s expertise is in Mayan culture but I wish you would have pursued his comments on the Hopewell Indians where a miriad of iron objects (including axes) have been found between 400 BC and 400 AD. 
    See link   https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/1811/4817/V61N06_341.pdf?sequence=1

    • Brian August 15, 2011 at 3:06 am - Reply

      : “…the Hopewell Indians where a miriad of iron objects (including axes) have been found…”

      This patently underhanded and deceptive approach to justification for unfounded beliefs is positively revolting. Some Native Americans found some iron meteorites and used them primarily in their jewelry, and, in one case, an axe. (Not “axes” as you reported.)

      THIS IS NOT the ability to smelt and forge iron and steel weaponry and armor that the BoM describes. If anything, your citation underscores the paucity of archeological evidence for BoM claims because it’s a defacto admission that you’re not aware of any actual metallurgical technology unless you count metal that literally fell out of the sky.

      I heard a Muslim apologist once insist that the Koran supports the Big Bang theory. While it takes zero effort for an outsider to see that he’s merely finding ideas that retroactively support his holy book, it is virtually impossible for the believer to see his own blatant self-justification for unfounded beliefs.

      • Evan August 15, 2011 at 3:45 am - Reply

        “living and learning” may not be doing this intentionally. He/she may have read this from another source.

      • living and learning August 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm - Reply


        Check out Rod Meldrums essays and research on metalurgy in the Americas.  I don’t think you’ll find it patently underhanded, revolting, or misleading.  They are finding metal in Hopewell Indian mounds during Bof M time periods.  By the way, I underscore, currently finding!!

  22. Emily August 15, 2011 at 5:05 am - Reply

    Really great podcast, John!  Loved it!

  23. Derrick Clements August 15, 2011 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Greatly enjoying the interview so far!  Big thanks to John and Dr. Coe for a thorough, honest, and stimulating conversation.  Maybe someone here can clarify something for me: why the assumption that the Nephites were Mayan?  If we extend the possibility that the BOM people were not Mayan, does that affect the evidence presented here?  Finishing the interview now so my apologies if this is addressed later.

    • Jenni December 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      My understanding is that it is based on timeline. The Nephites were supposed to have been 600BC-400AD, and the Maya were around in the same timetable.

      Same story with the Olmec being the Jaredites–the timetable fits what the book says. So far as I know, that is the main (perhaps the only) reason for putting them together.

  24. Kevin August 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Great podcast. Thanks, John.
    I especially enjoyed Dr. Coe’s (all too brief) comments about the similarities between Mormonism and Marxism. They share a lot besides Coe’s observation that each comprises a worldview that is difficult to leave behind.
    Both began as belief systems that were self-consciously “scientific” (does anyone still quote John A. Widtsoe on “rational theology” or Gordon T. Allred on “a comprehensible God”?) and ultimately came to rely on repeated demands for faith that believers were expected to summon through force of will. Both started out as revolutionary groups with youthful appeal and leadership, and ultimately became deeply conservative institutional gerontocracies. Both were originally filled with passionate believers, and eventually contained a large proportion of members who were just going along to get along. 

  25. Bitherwack August 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Its interesting to hear Dr. Coe’s understanding of the Book of Mormon narrative.

    His perspective (especially in part ll) that the narrative is a form of institutionalized racism.

  26. Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    awsome podcast

  27. Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm - Reply


    Based on the case this episode makes it might be time for Mormon Stories to have series on how to disengage from the L.D.S. church. Something on the lines of, “Inactive with a Purpose : A Best Practices Guide”.  Mormon Expression had an episode, “Mistakes were Made: How not to Leave the Church”  that was interesting.It’s like the land underfoot of the believing Mormon is shrinking down to the size of a quarter. It is an amazing trick to stay on it and balance – but wow! how long can it last (especially for the youth)? Maybe give them a safety net so that if (or when) they fall the damage to them and the innocent bystanders can be minimized.
    Maybe have some guests on to voice their opinions on the best approaches by people that are in the process.

    For example, I have found it best not to talk about any issues with believers. The debate simply creates negative associations with you and the relationship suffers. The last family contact I had I simply gave them the mormonthink.com URL and told them it was only for the purpose of gaining credibility for the path I am on (currently) not to effect their testimony. I think it’s also good to leave some hope in theirs minds. 

  28. Grc1942 August 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    one persons opinion. all
    things will be reviewed in due time…if necessary. 

  29. Jason August 16, 2011 at 2:10 am - Reply

    I’m curious to hear more about the reliability of carbon dating. A lot of Dr. Coe’s assertions about the existence of certain seeds, iron, etc., are based on our understanding of carbon dating. Isn’t that correct? Do Mormon apologists argue against the validity of carbon dating? Are there other techniques archeologists use to date items?

    • Megan August 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm - Reply

      Archaeologists do not depend on a single dating technique, but use complementary methods to cross-check and to refine results. Among these techniques are:

      Stratigraphy – based on the principle of superposition, ie. older objects will be found deposited below younger objects (and yes, they take into account disturbances of the stratigraphic record). Stratigraphy gives relative ages to objects found within the same area – so it’s a contextual dating method.

      Dendrochronology – comparing the ring-growth pattern of a sample from an unknown date with the library of known ring samples (a database which includes factors such as geographic area and species)

      style analysis – comparing artifacts such as tools, pottery or textiles to known and dated examples.

      Archeomagnetic – looking at the magnetic alignment of a sample that has passed through the ‘Curie point’ which means a ferromagnetic material has melted enough to so its magnetic elements re-align with the current direction of the magnetic field. By comparing the alignment to known alignments a corroborative date can be produced (useful for about 10,000 years or so).

      That’s just a few of them. There are also things like thermoluminescence for dating ceramics and other inorganics, potassium-argon used on fossilized remains, and other stuff.

      So an archaeologist looking to date, for example, a Maya site, would definitely do C14 on seeds, but would also compare pottery styles to known Mayan pots, would look at the stratigraphy in the local geology, would try to find samples of timber to compare tree rings, and so forth. That’s without looking at the hieroglyphs that might give the name of a known ruler or family!

      • Hermes August 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm - Reply

        This was a recurring problem I ran into as an archaeological skeptic.  I wanted fervently to doubt archaeology, since it denied the historical reality of myths I was determined to defend.  Unfortunately, I encountered the accumulating waves of different evidence that Megan lays out, and I realized that while I might nitpick a little here or there, I was never going to overthrow the whole edifice of rational, scientific archaeology unless I tossed my own rational faculties out the window as well.  It was somewhere close to this point that I decided God was going to have to do more than send me warm feelings if he wanted me to doubt all reason and believe in the historical reality of Nephites (while accepting a metaphorical Santa Claus).

        I can believe that one test is faulty, that one archaeologist screwed up, that reason stumbles on its way to making sense of the chaos.  But I cannot believe that every test fails all the time, that every archaeologist is a fraud, that reason is completely useless.  I need a faith that doesn’t require me to stuff my fingers in my ears and ignore the whole world around me, pretending that some modern businessmen with a collection of myths (some old and some not) understand everything better than I do.  At some point, I have got to be able to trust myself.  Maybe the archaeologists are taking us all for a ride.  Maybe.  But at least they won’t cut me off without a hearing when I ask them tough questions.  At least they let me disagree with them (not always nicely), while they showed me how they connect the dots to come up with the myth that unmade my myths.  At least they doubt themselves openly, inviting people like me to tell a better story.  (It was this challenge more than anything which made me realize my own bankruptcy; faced with it, I realized that I did not really have a story of my own, that I was just parroting what I had read with no substantial reason for its reality beyond my gut feeling, which was all about me and had nothing to do with the ancient history of Israelites or pre-Columbian American tribes.)

        • Megan August 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm - Reply

          You made the other point I wanted to make – which is that radiocarbon (and other) dating is not okay for one set of tests and unreliable when applied to BoM or biblical archaeology – it’s a methodology that is applied in the same way, using the same theories, in every archaeological setting across the globe. Just like other scientific techniques it has been refined and, yes, changed somewhat as the methodology improves, but those changes have served to give better, more accurate dates, not to disprove the entire timeline of mesoamerican history! In other words, there is no archaeological conspiracy to bluff the entire world into believing an arbitrary set of dates – heck no, these are scientists who are trying to get as close to truth as they can because, for them, accurate facts have value. So while biblical antiquarians might take bible dates as, pun intended, set in stone and don’t look further, archaeologists will actually continually challenge dates and dating techniques, always looking for greater accuracy!

          Radiocarbon is an excellent example – when it was invented it was based on an assumption that the half-life was 5568 ± 30 years. A bit later scientists came up with a more accurate 5730 ± 40. Libby (the inventor) also assumed in his exchange reservoir hypothesis that the exchange reservoir was globally stable – the same around the world. We now know it’s not, and that the reservoir can be affected by all sorts of things including the earth’s magnetic field, or local volcanic activity, or whether an artifact was submerged in sea water. Knowing this means that raw C14 dates can be calibrated and give far better results than were possible before. And with more and more dating techniques being invented, techniques that can be used as cross-checks, our ability to know when something happened has never been better.

        • JT August 16, 2011 at 7:56 pm - Reply


          Nicely said. Thank you.


          • Jason August 19, 2011 at 5:14 am

            Great responses Megan and Hermes! This really helped answer my question.

  30. Mike Michaels August 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    This is certainly one of the best Mormon Stories podcasts of all time.  Thanks John.  

  31. JT August 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    In this interview Dr.
    Coe has affirmed the intuitions of most “gentiles” and many informed current and former Mormons about Book of Mormon’s historicity.  What is far more important is the model
    of intellectual and moral integrity he provides – of a life unhampered
    by “Biblolotry” or “Book-of-Mormon-olotry,” both which rest on the false
    assumption that transcendent authority is the necessary basis for human


    This truth was powerfully
    revealed in the last 20 minutes.  Dr.
    Coe brought it into focus by outlining the moral dilemma created by Mormon’s belief
    in Lamanites.   On one horn this belief dishonors the wonderful heritage of the aboriginal Americans.  On the other it seems to invite the
    meltdown of our own heritage and everything that depends on it, which is nothing
    short of eternal salvation.


    This is simply a recapitulation of prior moral dilemmas forced on Mormonism by its dogma.  I am
    thinking of the canonized doctrine that created (or creates) the false choice
    between obeying God and honoring (or enfranchising) blacks, women, homosexuals, unmarried
    people, and other faith traditions (including agnosticism/atheism).


    But these outcomes make perfect sense from a social psychological perspective.  Religious beliefs derive their power by staking
    claims on authentic history and nature. 
    This is the power needed for constructing and solidifying social groups that
    help people face mortal existence in what can be a cruel world. 


    Sadly, what makes these
    beliefs so powerful also makes them difficult to give up, even when shown to be
    implausible, dysfunctional, and collaterally harmful.  It is sad because they persist simply for want of a better


    Dr. Coe began to reveal that alternative in his final comments.  It is a reason- and evidence-centered naturalistic world-view that will not be forced by dogma into
    false moral dilemmas.  It is a world-view that can leave a person open to truth however slowly and tenuously it makes it way
    toward him or her.  It leaves a person free
    to pursue goodness for its own sake and to use their intelligence to achieve it.

  32. er August 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm - Reply


    No Offense but your valid questions about honey bees, chiasmus, land of bountiful in the middle east and other Arabian evidences… etc – you missed the boat.   Dr. Coe clearly misunderstood the questions and his answers to those questions showed that.  Again I’m not TBM by any stretch – at all – but these things are due some serious consideration I think – and I think the entire interview is tarnished without having vetting these very crucial points.  Although the New World American proofs are sketchy at best – the old world ones are pretty interesting and much harder to explain – and by association almost lend credibility to the rest of the book. I think this section deserves a re-visitation, addendum to the interview because you totally blanked on this one. 

    • Anonymous August 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm - Reply


      I totally agree that I botched those portions of the interview. But I think I have a pretty good idea what Dr. Coe would have said….which would lie somewhere between “confirmation bias” and “meaningless coincidence” at best. I’m happy to follow up with him if you’d like. Or if you’d like me to forward a few questions on to him…I’m happy to do so and will publish his response. Just send them to me in email.



      • er August 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm - Reply

        No its ok but thanks.  Obviously it just tightens up the interview to have that zipped up tight along with other items.  I don’t think that Coe would really be up to speed on these Old World evidence issues as you note – but I think he should be in order to take such a strong position on the whole thing. 

         I’m not arguing in its favor but as I said that Old World stuff, especially what I’ve read about Nahom and the other items are at least piquing of my curiosity – and like a good murder mystery or thriller – even if it is fiction – its always fun to see how the ‘crime’ was committed, if you know what I mean.

         Maybe I’m just not smart enough to critique these ‘evidences’ as portrayed on that Journey of Faith (FARMS DVD I think?) but it is kind of a fun little exercise and that’s why I’d love to hear a real scholar respond to those things.  If JS did just pull THAT stuff out of his brain I’ll be super impressed! Maybe he did – who knows…!

  33. Jessica August 17, 2011 at 12:55 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed the podcast.  Thanks so much for it.  It is refreshing to hear.  You know, for a very long time I thought that Mormonism  either had to be true or false.  I couldn’t understand the really powerful experiences of calm and reassurance that I felt in it while at the same time complete despair.  What I have come to find as the story falls apart is that it doesn’t matter whether the story was true or not, my heart always was.  I feel that the truth in me, which I saw outside of me in Mormonism, was always there.   I think that is what my testimony was, I just didn’t know it.  I love what Dr. Coe said about Darwin.  I really believe he was so brave to speak when those around him hated him and his name, in many circles, became a “hiss and a by-word”.  Thanks to everyone out there who has the courage to speak the truth as they see it whether it is popular or not.  John Dehlin, you are awesome.  You too Dr. Coe.

  34. Brad Wood August 17, 2011 at 3:05 am - Reply

    “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”  Lloyd (Jim Carrey) in Dumb and Dumber when told he only had a one in a million chance of getting together with Mary.  I was reminded of this great movie line when John asked Dr. Coe what’s the probability that the Book of Mormon is a historical document and Dr. Coe said less than 1%, infact “as close to zero as you can get it”, just downright “highly improbable”.   John, you should have then quoted Jim Carrey!!  But, I do think that most true believers who are aware of the scientific challenges to the BOM discussed in this podcast and elsewhere do fully expect that each of these pesky facts will eventually be explained away or invalidated.   And the slightest degree of evidence promoted by FARMS or others is enough to latch onto.  It’s just a matter of remaining faithful in the present until the truth is fully revealed, whether in this life or the next.     But year after year we only see more comprehensive evidence stacking up against a historical interpretation of the Book of Mormon.  The linguistic, anthropological, archaeological, genetic, and paleontological fields are all independently lining up to tell a very consistent story of the New World that brashly conflicts with any possible scenarios portrayed by a historical BOM.  Then, only isolated and highly subjective evidence is ever found in favor of it, and only by the true believers.  Add to this the continued insight we’re gaining of church history regarding Joseph Smith’s sheer intelligence and family history (he wasn’t just some dumb farm kid), the source/development of another “translated” scripture (the book of abraham) and some beliefs in the early 1800’s about native american origins found interwoven into the BOM narrative, and we see a much more highly probable, non-inspired, scenario for the authorship of the Book of Mormon.  At one point this all became too much for me.  In my true believing Mormon ways I had to ask myself whether I could really believe in a God that required such a high degree of mental gymnastics to navigate all these converging facts in order to remain faithful.  Even when I tried to shrug it all off as being too much for one person to comprehend or that the science was just downright flawed, I felt that I was compromising God’s intent that I use my god given intellect to figure it out myself.  After all, what kind of God expects us to maintain such blind belief in literal interpretations when the facts are so significantly weighted against?  Is this some kind of deranged test of faith for those of us living in the latter days?   And then the A-HA moment.  I realized that this was not in fact the kind of God I believed in; that I wasn’t expected to just blindly believe, to “put my questions on a shelf” for a later time or to rely only on past warm fuzzies to sustain my faith.  I could look at the high probabilities that the BOM, thus church, weren’t true and follow a different path.  It was a liberating moment!  I experienced a true sense of calm in my life knowing I didn’t have to try bridging the cognitive dissonance anymore.  Now, several years later, I can honestly say my relationship with the Divine is ever more enriched, complex and meaningful.  The world is a dynamic place that I get to personally interpret and navigate, rather than a narrow path and linear rod fraught with dark mists, spacious buildings and mocking people. 

    • Contact September 2, 2011 at 1:43 am - Reply

      “The world is a dynamic place that I get to personally interpret and navigate, rather than a narrow path and linear rod fraught with dark mists, spacious buildings and mocking people.”
      The book of Mormon isn’t the source of the “straight and narrow way.”  Consider this quote from Christ in Matthew: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

      If you leave Mormonism, the gate does not get any wider. 

      I have to ask, how do you square your new perspective with what Jacob says in the Book of Mormon? 
      “And whoso knocketh, to him will he (Christ) open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches–yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.” 2 Nephi 9:42

      • Dennis September 2, 2011 at 1:52 am - Reply

        By the way, the post displayed unexpectedly, showing the first part of my email instead of my name. My name is Dennis. 

        I dislike the fact that text carries no tonal information. Please don’t interpret my tone as aggressive or combative. I see no enemies here. 

  35. Allen August 18, 2011 at 3:09 am - Reply

    Coe’s malarkey is a good 30 years, and way more common anti-mormon chestnuts OLD…..He’s a joke when it comes to modern LDS scholarship. Plus, he clearly never even knew it back when he was half alive, but he especially doesn’t now.He understands and deals with nothing related to mormonism, and yet he’s somehow an “expert” on commenting on how Mormonism relates to Archeology??? Please.This is like those stupid Christian anti-mormon videos on either the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham which pulls out “experts” who know NOTHING about LDS scholarship and materials, people who are only experts in their fields, but know nothing about how LDS materials relate.That’s bearing false witness at it’s core…. tisk tisk… :(

    • live-love-laugh August 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      I take it that you are an expert.  How about some actual proof that he is wrong rather than ad hominem attacks?

    • Kay August 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      I am wondering- what IS an expert in Mormonism? As far as I heard, he never claimed to be an expert in Mormonism, but an expert in his field of archeology, which deals directly in things that are supposedly literal history for Mormonism. And what is LDS scholarship and materials? Is this the faith promoting stuff or the whole unadulterated story? Talk about bearing false witness… At this point I tend to appreciate the neutral position of a person who has nothing to gain or lose, but just tells it like it is. This is not the case for Mormon apologists who often spin complicated and sometimes far fetched stories. I would give equal weight to a non-Mormon archeologist who supports the views of the LDS church, so if they are out there, willing to speak, bring them on, John!

      • RobF August 23, 2011 at 3:47 am - Reply

        Coe’s is hardly a “neutral position”–among other things listen again for the strident defense of Native American people against the supposed claims that they couldn’t have created civilization on their own without diffusion from the Old World.  This is a long-standing bias in anthropology and archaeology with roots in political correctness and the theory of social evolution’s requirement for independent cases of “the rise of civilization”.

    • Buffalo August 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately,  LDS scholarship in the last 30 years hasn’t found any new New World evidence for the BOM. The best they’ve been able to do is try to shrink down the borders of the Nephite and Lamanite homelands down to a postage stamp – whatever size is necessarily to avoid falsification. That isn’t good scholarship. 

      • RobF August 23, 2011 at 3:53 am - Reply

        Buffalo, you and Coe are both in error on this one.  As John Clark (who has looked at the BoM much more carefully than Coe) has written, “The trend over the last 50 years is one of convergence between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology” and “The archaeology that has been undertaken in Mesoamerica is confirming historical, geographical, and political facts mentioned in the text.”

        • Anonymous August 23, 2011 at 4:03 am - Reply

          RobF – Please invite John Clark to come onto the podcast and answer the questions…and I would be happy to give him a voice.

    • Hermes August 18, 2011 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      I will concede that Coe is not familiar with LDS doctrine and apologetics, just as modern astronomers are not necessarily familiar with all the historical variants of geocentric cosmology before Copernicus (or even the heliocentric models predating modernity).  Geology professors are similarly ignorant of the latest arguments advanced by people who believe that the earth is flat.  

      Experts are useful because of what they do know.  Coe does know there is not a scrap of bona fide evidence that Nephites, Lamanites, or Jaredites ever existed.  The fact that we LDS might suddenly rewrite the Book of Mormon and claim our new version as the original composition of Joseph Smith (and/or whoever else had a hand in it) does not change what he knows (or make our shifting kaleidoscope of fictions any less fictional).  Coe is not a mind-reader with miraculous access to stories no one has told yet.  Unlike certain other people, he has never claimed to be such.

    • Jason August 19, 2011 at 5:33 am - Reply

      I thought that Dr. Coe had a remarkable understanding of the BOM – particularly for a non-member. Dr. Coe could speak of BOM characters with ease. He sounded like a member at times. Allen, I would also encourage you to read Dr. Coe’s article from Dialogue, if you haven’t already. In that article, Dr. Coe demonstrates thorough understanding of the BOM.

      • RobF August 23, 2011 at 3:32 am - Reply

        I would call it more of a strong passing familiarity with the BoM, rather than a “thorough” understanding.  Unfortunately the interview did not carefully examine the text of the BoM itself, but rather mostly skimmed through the traditional list of criticisms based on supposed anachronisms in the text.  Much more can and should be said about the BoM and archaeology than the shallow analysis provided in this interview and subsequent posted comments.

        • Anonymous August 23, 2011 at 4:00 am - Reply

          RobF – My biggest concern with “apologists” these days is that they are relatively skilled at criticizing, but are not nearly as good at accepting invitations to face the heat of tough questions. Instead, so many apologists (in my experience) seem to want to hide behind the safety of their own carefully correlated events….or within their own carefully moderated forums (where continual support/praise/reinforcement can be safely relied upon). They CERTAINLY don’t seem to be very interested in standing up to true scholarly peer review.

          If you or someone you know can do a better job than Dr. Coe, then I invite you (or them) to record a podcast with me and face the tough questions….vs. simply lob somewhat broad criticisms and/or insults, avoiding the more difficult work/scrutiny.

          The invitation remains open.

          • RobF August 23, 2011 at 4:45 am

            John, there may be other reasons why you haven’t attracted a more informed BoM discussant.  Having an informed archaeological discussion about the BoM is a big challenge–for one thing it would involve getting an audience up to speed on so many issues including the limits and possibilities of archaeological preservation, detection, and interpretation; ethnohistorical sources and linguistic issues; BoM hermeneutics, etc. before we can even dig into the specifics of hundreds of Mesoamerican archaeological sites from dozens of archaeological cultures spanning over 2,000 years, etc.  That’s a tall order–and it isn’t clear that there is a real audience with that level of interest.  In a perhaps ironic way it is similar to the problem of discussing evolution with a confirmed biblical creationist–there are mountains of evidence in favor of evolution, but it takes a fair amount of training to appreciate and make sense of it.

            Is a MS podcast the appropriate venue for such a discussion?  Perhaps.  I’d like to see it happen.  I am not involved with FAIR or the Maxwell Institute and my own recent work in Mesoamerica is more ethnohistoric and ethnographic–I study bird names, bird lore, and the role of birds as (divine) messengers in various Mayan language communities.  I’m hoping someone else will step up to the plate so I can go back to studying birds :-)

          • Anonymous August 23, 2011 at 4:52 am

            RobF – In some ways I am sure that these topics are all very sophisticated and complex. In other ways, my guess is that “Occam’s Razor” applies quite nicely.

            Anyway….I hear your concerns…and (again) invite you or someone else to step up and face the questions, if possible. I’d love to try to make this dialogue work…even if our hopes are ambitious (as you indicate).

        • Jonah Swan August 31, 2011 at 5:53 am - Reply

          That’s an unfair point to make.  He is familiar with the BoM’s claims–and that’s enough for me because he spends his time on real science.  We want a non-Mormon’s opinion, but you expect him to show up as if he had been reading the BoM all his life.  Further, I don’t care if he knows the nuances of apologetic arguments because apologists don’t care enough about those arguments to actually submit their papers to the scientific community or show up and discuss their papers at a secular forum where real scholars will critique their work.  The BoM contradicts the prevailing wisdom of the scientific community.  From the perspective of the scientific community, the burden of proof is on the apologists, but they prefer to preach to the closed audiences of TBM attendees who take them at their word.  Because religion relies heavily on authority over evidence and reason, most Mormons are very authority-centric, so all an apologist has to do is show up with a PHD and they’ll take him at his word. Most of the time.

          Start submitting your papers to peer review so that other archaeologists can see your work and critique it.

          What needs to happen is this: we as a vested third-party with a stake in this process need to take everything that FARMS and FAIR produces and submit it to a rigorous non-Mormon peer review.  We’ll gather up a bunch of willing non-mormon thought leaders in respective fields and using technology, we will have them start writing reviews of everything FARMS and FAIR writes.  That way, everyone can see what real scientists think of the stuff they produce.

  36. Michael August 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in the comments, but I’m curious as to his thoughts on the new pro historical Book of Mormon hypothesis that the lands of the Nephites was the Baja peninsula.  achoiceland.com

    The lead proponent, a former Geography professor at the University of Calgary gave a presentation to my institute class a few months ago.  Basically states that the current in vogue theory that the Nephites were in the lands of the Maya is bunk.

    • Anonymous August 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm - Reply


      Is the archeology in Baja any more promising than in meso-America? If so, please share the info.


      • Dan September 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm - Reply

        I have also heard this presentation from Lynn Rosenvall. He is probably the first professional geographer to approach the problem that has traditionally been approached from the perspective of archaeology. Archaeology doesn’t do you any good if you’re digging in the wrong spot. The geography, specifically the climate and minerals, of Mesoamerica do not match the BoM. You can’t take seeds from Mediterranean and have them grow abundantly in the tropics. Nor can you make swords and breastplates without the minerals, and available near the surface. The Baja theory fixes both of these. (Horses and elephants are still, shall we say, back burner, depending on the timescale of the LaBrea tar pits near Los Angeles). And all the distances and landmarks fit (or don’t disagree). There has been little archaeology done in the Baja, other than the cave paintings, but there are some amazaing, ancient, currently unused “cast up highways” networking out from San Ignacio (/Zarahemla?) that may create a stir once the publicity on the theory picks up (you can actually see them on Google Earth). I’ve heard rumors of BYU faculty heading down there soon…

        You should interview him. He’s a great guy. But read the website first.

  37. Drjillmitchell August 21, 2011 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Wonderful!  Thanks!

  38. N. August 23, 2011 at 12:02 am - Reply

    Episode Summary:
    A scholar in one field of expertise asked to comment outside of his field as often as inside his field.  For example, he’s asked to set up a strawmen (e.g. John asked him to summarize the Mormon faithfuls’ understanding of the BoM’s content vis-a-vis Mesoamerica), then knock them down.  He lectures on items well outside his field of study and expertise (Book of Abraham scrolls? Ancient near-eastern linguistics?).Scholar gets to psychoanalyze other scholars and historical figures. Interviewer gleeful. Podcast commenters call this “the best podcast ever” and come to the defense of the trainwreck.  All of them just glad to have someone reenforcing their existing opinion and glad to be here in the Dehlin echo chamber.

    I miss the Mormon Stories about Mormon people, and not polemic arguments for former and future-former Mormons.
    I loved the shoutout to John Robertson. He is indeed a first rate linguist.

  39. Verminpants August 23, 2011 at 7:09 am - Reply

    I very much enjoyed this interview. Clearly Michael Coe knows what he is talking abou. However, it should be noted that nowhere does the Book of Mormon mention coins (not including the chapter headings).

  40. Christian J August 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    This is an interesting point related to BoM criticism. We should evaluate the text based on the text – not what any number of people (even JS) have and will say about the text.

    • Anonymous August 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm - Reply


      Very true…but this also means that we might have to look at what it means to be a “prophet, seer and revelator” a bit differently than we have culturally been brought up to think/feel. At least many feel that way….I certainly do. Because if pretty much all the prophets (since and including Joseph) can get something so important so fundamentally wrong…what else have they gotten wrong? That’s a fair question, anyway.


      • Christian J August 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm - Reply

        Sure, that’s a big questions John. I personally have never understood the infalible prophet expectation. Where do you draw the line? Getting past it, I think its reasononable to believe that God can work through an instrument, without that instrument knowing every detail (and even getting some big things wrong). The OT model supports this.

        All this considered, I take seriously the opinion of Dr. Coe.

      • Verminpants August 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm - Reply

        But then you can apply that reasoning to anyone and anything. ie Mohammed was flawed but there are still inspired teachings in the Koran because God inspired him etc. The Dalai Lama, Reverend Moon, the Pope. Where do you stop. Some people may say ‘sure! God can work through those people’, but them what does that say about the exclusivist claims of the church and it’s leaders? Can President Monson then be thought of as the one and only voice of God? Apparently not! More than this, doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that we can test a prophets words?
        Deut 18
        21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
        22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

        Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, Kinderhook, blacks and the priesthood etc  etc

        I actually think to say that the prophet is fallible (while I agree that it is inevitable to acertain extent) is a slippery slope, (as already mentioned) where do you stop? What is a prophet allowed to get away with.

        But also if a prophet is fallible, why do we have the mantra of ‘follow the prophet’ if there is a chance that he will lead us down shady paths?

        Why not follow Jesus? ‘Come follow me’, if we did this in the first place, the church might be in a better state.

        • Christian J August 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm - Reply

          So, a man or woman has to be infallible in every word and deed before God can have anything to do with them? That prospect should make atheists out of all of us.

          Also, what do you mean, “follow Jesus”. How do we know about Jesus, except through the lens of men and women? Where they infallible?

          • Verminpants August 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm

            Follow whoever floats your boat mate. But I don’t go for any exclusivist claim. In fact, I’m quite happy to listen to anyone. Whether I follow their ideas is another matter entirely. And thats the key. Don’t relinquish your right to think for yourself and hand it over to the Corporation.
            As for Jesus! I still believe! And like anything, belief is a choice.

  41. Christian J August 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm - Reply


    combining interviews here, Peterson’s caution to avoid critiquing the BoM on interpretations of what it claims to be (with Friberg paintings etc.) could have been employed more carefully. For example, Coe mentions in passing that the BoM peoples are supposed to be Mayan – not Aztecian. Says who? When he discussed BoM historicity probability, I suspected that he was really asking – what is the probability of BoM peoples being ancient Mayans? Which is the wrong question. Of course, this is our own doing – Mormons have always made assumptions that end up clouding our view of what is actually in the book. The distinction still needs to be made however.

    Overall, very interesting discussion – thanks JD.

  42. fogciti August 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    I dunno, John, the tone of this one seemed…it seemed like there was some ax grinding.  In other controversial interviews you manage to come off sounding sympathetic to many different points of view, which I really enjoy.  In fact, I would say the open-mindedness of your interviews is a hallmark of  mormonstories.  Not so much in this one.

    Thanks for your time and efforts.

    • Anonymous August 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm - Reply


      I appreciate the honest feedback, and will try to be more careful going forward.


  43. Sophia Shepherd August 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    This. Is. Remarkable!! What a wonderful interview. Best podcast ever! Dr Coe is competent, kind, honest, and I can’t tell you how enjoyable this one was! THANK YOU!!! John, I understand why you didn’t fluff or come across as sympathetic this time. Naturally this content isn’t such that you can offer much opposition! I thought you offered lot’s of knowledge to support his comments but you can’t find fault in that. I can’t imagine it going any other way. What would true believers have you say? Something like,  “But, but, but it is exact!” Come on, that would have just sounded ignorant. 

  44. Jonah Swan August 31, 2011 at 5:15 am - Reply

    Book of Mormon’s many secular claims thrust the religion into the dirt and soil
    where it can be—and should be—subjected to scientific scrutiny as opposed to
    personal prayer and spiritual discovery. 
    Consequently, knowing the truth about Mormonism is not merely a matter
    of faith, prayer, and personal revelation as the Mormon Church promises.  The very moment Joseph Smith claimed to pull
    from the soil a record of an ancient civilization written upon golden plates,
    he had muddied his hands and plunged his religion into the domain of science
    which now disproves the Book of Mormon and exposes it as a counterfeit.  The
    inexorable progress of science unearths truth in rocks and dust.  Science continues to dig and discover more
    evidence about the ancient Americas and its inhabitants, rendering the Book of
    Mormon increasingly unbelievable. Consequently, the popular Mormon imagery turns
    on itself: the Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient voice that whispers “out
    of the dust,” but unfortunately for the Book of Mormon, now the dust is
    whispering back (Isaiah 29:4).

    • Anonymous September 6, 2011 at 3:07 am - Reply


      If you can provide someone better than Coe to do an interview, please do so. Otherwise, your comments come across as “same old, same old” apologetics.

      I/we eagerly await.


    • Jonah Swan September 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      I read all those things on my journey of discovery.  Many times, when researching the BoM’s authenticity, many faithful members spend their time on “the issues” but what that means to them is that they spend their time reading FARMS and FAIR and the internet critics.  Consequently, they spend their time in a bubble reading nuances of apologetics and criticisms and counterclaims.  This is unfortunate because Mormon apologetics tend to focus on “what could have happened” and this is a huge distraction from the study of what actually happened.  Consequently, faithful members never get exposed to the prevailing wisdom of the scientific community.  Once you discover the greater scientific community’s wisdom on this topic, you will realize that Mormon apologetics are completely at odds with the greater scientific community and consequently, the burden of evidence is on the Mormon community of apologists to overcome the immense cumulation of evidence that contradicts and actually disproves the narrative that the BoM sets forth.

      One example that got me started down the road: Guns Germs and Steel (Pulitzer-Prize Winning Book) was one of the books that set me off on my journey to research the evidence within the greater scientific community that appeared to be stacked up against the Book of Mormon.

      In 1532, Francisco Pizarro landed on the coast of Peru with horses, muskets, steel swords, helmets, armor, and a silent arsenal of deadly germs. Pizarro and less than 200 men conquered an Inca empire of more than 80,000 soldiers, captured the Inca emperor, and looted the empire’s stores of gold and silver. Why did European and Asian civilizations develop military advantage over the Americas? Specifically, why didn’t the Incas develop the technology and resources to build ships, sail across the Atlantic, land in Spain or England, conquer their troops, sack the throne, and pillage the riches of Europe?

      Guns Germs and Steel explains European and Asian technological hegemony by showing that domesticable animals and domesticable plants are radically transformative natural resources that serve as the foundation on which civilizations develop manifold advantages and critical technological advancements such as wheels,  steel swords, armor, gunpowder, and immunities to deadly animal-bread diseases.

      Deadly Diseases.  The domestication of cows, sheep, and horses in Europe and Asia brought humans into close physical living
      conditions with these animals, exposing humans to animal-spread diseases for which they developed immunities over thousands of years. Because these animals did not exist in the Americas, and because Native Americans had no way of developing immunities to diseases like smallpox that came from these animals, the Native American populations suffered
      devastation upon exposure to Europeans. Millions died.

      The Wheel.   The availability of domesticable animals led to other advancements as well, such as the wheel. What advantage would a wheel give you if you had no large, domesticable animal like a horse or an ox to pull a cart or a
      chariot or a carriage? While Europeans developed many uses for a wheel, early American civilizations never developed a useful wheel, a chariot, or a horse-drawn carriage other than in small toys.  Once again, this is because these important domesticable animals did not exist in pre-Colombian Americas. 

      Steel.  Domesticable plants like wheat gave European and Asian civilizations time away from hunting and processing
      food to develop other specialized trades and the division of labor. Labor specialization gave Eurasians more time to experiment with metals. It took centuries of experimentation to develop steel by adding precise amounts of carbon to iron and further centuries to develop the process of folding steel to strengthen it enough to form the long, slender shaft of a steel sword. These are among the many advancements that the Eurasians developed over the Americas because the many interconnected Eurasian civilizations possessed domesticable animals and plants.

      Not only are these resources valuable–they spread.  They transform entire continents through trade. Guns Germs and Steel shows that domesticable animals and domesticable plants provide the natural resources on which European and Asian civilizations developed technological advancements over civilizations in the Americas, Australia, and Indonesia.

      This is just a start.  One has to continue reading and researching actual science.  This Book raises many issues for the Book of Mormon.  If a faithful member cannot read this book and formulate a list of questions for the Book of Mormon then there’s nothing I can do for them.  Once again, this is just a start.

      • Jonah Swan September 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm - Reply

        Thank you for your thoughtful response.  I’m actually quite alarmed by your post so that’s just a shot over the bow. 

        I had already read that article you listed and had watched the youtube video on topic as well.  HOWEVER, you and the article fail to mention the following:

        1.  In your discussion of Ammon’s story, you say “flock” may not mean “flock of sheep,” and it could mean a flock of some other animal, so what exactly does the word “flock” refer to?  You write as though the Book of Mormon never mentions sheep, but it does mention sheep, and not only sheep, but oxen, horses, cows, elephants, and more–none of which existed in Pre-Columbian Americas.  Accordingly, a flock of any of them would have dramatically transformed ancient American civilizations.  Why don’t you pick one of the domesticated animals the Book of Mormon mentions–was it a flock of oxen, cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, what?  A Flock of Seagulls?  The Book of Mormon documents the existence of all of these animals (except the seagulls), so the purpose of arguing over the word flocks is just plain ridiculous.  Just the existence of domesticated horses and oxen by itself would have changed everything for the Ancient American civilizations.

        2.  You write as though the Book of Mormon never mentions steel swords, but that’s wrong. Not only does The Book of Mormon detail the existence of steel swords, but it details mighty battles of steel swords–see Ether Chapeter 7.  Further, in the story of Ammon, the thieves only had clubs, but Ammon had a sword.  Was it a steel sword or an iron-age sword?  Doesn’t matter? The Book of Mormon mentions steel swords in other stories, so why argue the point in this story. In the story of Ammon, he “smote off their arms” and he did it “with the edge of his sword.”  No swords of any kind–iron or steel–existed in the Pre-Columbian Americas.  Good luck defending that.

        What I did respect in your comment is that you seem to be making a substantive retreat, which is great.  You seem to be admitting that the Book of Mormon is wrong when it documents the existence of steel swords and domesticable animals in the Americas–and that’s a good retreat.  It’s the first of many retreats necessary before you come to the truth.

        What is your next step?  To make the next retreat–that Lehi, Nephi, Laman, Lemuel, Ammon, Alma, never existed.  The truth is that the world Joseph Smith created in the Book of Mormon is a naive fabrication that evidences misconceptions common during his time.  It shows that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century fiction; that Ammon, Lehi, Nephi never existed just as oxen, cows, sheep, horses, stables, steel swords, chariots, and yes, elephants never existed in the Americas. It’s all a fabrication.  Based on the Book of Abraham alone, we know that Joseph Smith did not have the ability to translate, so why fight it?  If you already admit that the Book of Abraham is not an actual translation–that it’s just an inspired writing from a mnemonic papyri–then why don’t just do the same with the Book of Mormon, which is riddled with even more problems than the Book of Abraham.

        The discovery of the truth is not only intellectual; it’s also emotional.  I discovered that principle myself when I started researching all of this stuff years ago.  Emotionally, I was pushing back the truth, building arguments in my head and heart to defend my faith.  The realization that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fabrications is an emotional event.  It comes when we stop emotionally pushing back on the truth and face the truth head-on.  It will break your heart, but ultimately, the truth matters and as you rebuild, you will build on a foundation of truth, not error.

        To someone who is not emotionally fighting against the overwhelming evidence, these apologetic arguments seem ridiculous.  I dare you to submit any of these arguments to a scientific peer review to be reviewed and criticized by non-mormon archaeologists and anthropologists who specialize in the ancient Americas. So, there’s the challenge.  Let’s see if you meet that challenge.

        • Jonah Swan September 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm - Reply

          I have read and re-read all of those apologetic papers.  They were unconvincing to me, and in some cases, down right embarrassing.  In summary, what I hear saying is that you admit the following:

          Domesticable Plants and Animals:
          You admit that the following domesticated animals and plants never existed in the Americas: Horses, Elephants, Oxen, Cows, Sheep, Goats, Swine, Barley and Wheat, and Silk.

          You admit that the following technologies never existed in the Americas: Chariots, Cement, Windows, Iron and steel, Metal Swords (BoM uses the term “rusted” and “steel swords”), Scimitars, Coinage, and an economic exchange based on the weight of precious metals.

          So we’re not disagreeing on fact.  You’re actually agreeing with me that none of these things ever existed in the Pre-Columbian Americas. You’re just trying to make a semantic argument; that the words in the Book of Mormon do not mean what we think they mean: that ox does not mean ox, cow does not mean cow, sword does not mean sword, chariot does not mean chariot, horse does not mean horse, barley does not mean barley, wheat does not mean wheat, and so on. You’re saying that the use of these words in the Book of Mormon constitutes an error in translation.

          If that’s the case, then we should all agree right now with Mr Coe–and with the greater scientific community–that none of these things existed in the Americas, even though the Book of Mormon documents their existence in great detail and in many places. 

          Going Forward:
          We will now argue whether the Book of Mormon can make such a claim–the claim that the Book of Mormon’s translation is erroneous, that Joseph Smith got it wrong, but that the Book of Mormon remains nonetheless a legitimate historical record of an ancient civilization.

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          • Jonah Swan September 30, 2011 at 4:25 am

            So I now have your position on the topic of cement.  Now I’d like to see you address each of these issues one-by-one. 

            Then, because you’ve actually caused me to stay up an hour late to read this drivel, I’m going to do you a favor: I’m going to make you famous. 

            I’m now gathering top scientists in various fields and we’re going to take what you’ve written, and we’re going to take everything that FARMS and FAIR writes on topic, and we’re going to submit it to a peer review–and I’m going to pay them.  Then we’re going to publish them so the world can see just how ridiculous your positions are in the context of the greater scientific community.   It will give us great context for a larger debate between faith and science.

            So, what I expect from you right now is to actually be concise: to actually focus yourself instead of jumping around, and I want you to write defenses for each of those issues above.  You’ve got a start with cement.  Let’s see the rest of it.  If you’d like to continue to copy and paste other people’s thoughts like a parrot, feel free to do so, but just understand that you will be drawing their papers into scientific scrutiny and peer review.  In addition to all of that, I’d like to see if you’ll write a separate
            paper entitled: “The Book of Mormon vs Guns Germs and Steel.”  That will be really fun.  Good luck.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m very religious but religion has a few more retreats to make, it’s going to have to narrow the circle of its circumference before I feel comfortable again. 


          • Jonah February 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

            So, I never received a reply, so I guess you’re not willing to defend your position point-by-point against scientific peer review.   

            Dr. Coe is just one archaeologist among many [real] archaeologists who consider the BoM’s claims to be preposterous. The entire scientific community agrees with Dr Coe. What I’ve enjoyed is that Mormon scholars–and you apparently–agree with Dr. Coe, so much so that you’re willing to concede the whole matter and focus your efforts on reinterpreting the Book of Mormon.

            Your objections to Dr. Coe here intentionally avoid archeology–and the real world–by seeking to keep the argument strictly within the text itself, by reinterpreting the Book of Mormon, by saying that the Book of Mormon didn’t really mean what it says (that horse doesn’t mean horse, cow doesn’t mean cow, elephant doesn’t mean elephant, steel doesn’t mean steel, chariot doesn’t mean chariot, etc.).  So, your arguments seek to substantiate the fiction by keeping the discussion within the fiction itself.  That’s what we call self referencing loops.  That line of persuasion may work for some orthodox members perhaps.

            The problem for you and other apologists is simple: the proposition that the Book of Mormon cannot be defended–except by reinterpreting it–is an extremely problematic proposition for orthodox Mormonism and I don’t think you realize what the consequences are.  At least your arguments aren’t rooted anti-science, so I do commend you for that–for not abstracting yourself and your arguments entirely from reality.

            Having said that, I think you really need to make the case–send us your paper–so that the consequences can play out for people.

  45. Anonymous September 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    So Kevin,

    Will you or someone you list come on the podcast?  If so, who/when?

  46. Observer September 7, 2011 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Kevin Christensen is a “technical writer” with no advanced degrees or credentials in… anything. You really don’t want an interview with him. He simply regurgitates what FAIR and FARMS are cranking out.

  47. Anonymous September 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    I’d love a debate between Dr Michael Coe and Dr Daniel Peterson

    • Anonymous September 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm - Reply


      That would be wonderful – not so much a debate, but definitely a respectful discussion.

      I’ll cc Dr. Peterson about the idea. If he agrees, I will make sure it happens.


      • Jonah Swan September 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

        Based on this interview, it doesn’t appear Michael Coe would be in his element when debating.  He appears to be more of an anthropology guru and a source of knowledge.  Not necessarily the Christopher Hitchins or Richard Dawkins type.

  48. KH September 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed this podcast and talked about it at our family dinner table.  My teenage son piped up “Of course they aren’t going to find anything from the people of the BOM.  The LDS church is affilated with the Boy Scouts and what do the Boy Scouts teach?  Leave no trace!”

  49. Charles September 22, 2011 at 4:56 am - Reply

    Great podcast. Thanks, John. Your courage to tackle tough issues is inspiring to me. I’m troubled by the information the church continues to promote regarding the Book of Mormon. I received the October Ensign today, all about the BOM. They continue to show Joseph reading the plates instead of using a seer stone in a hat, on page 6 they talk about how the urim and thummim was used in translation (I didn’t see any mention of a seer stone), on page 78 they state, “there is linguistic, historical and achaeological evidence for the Boof of Mormon”, on page 79 they talk about changes to the text without mentioning any of the substantive changes such as “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome”. I wait patiently for more honesty. Not sure it will ever happen though.

    • Anonymous September 22, 2011 at 5:34 am - Reply

      Hang in there, Charles. :)

  50. schism September 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    Lack of evidence to disprove something is not evidence that something, in fact, exists.

  51. Nathan October 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Great job again, I’m half way through the 3rd podcast. I’m anxious to see how you round it off.

    It would have been interesting to hear him speak about somethings found in the Book of Mormon that did match his findings. I know it would be little consolation in the many things that he simply could not confirm or in his words were simply false.

    But does the Book of Mormon make any claims that are confirmed by the evidence that were not known in Joseph’s Smiths time?

  52. Nathan October 7, 2011 at 10:44 am - Reply

    I have finished now. I have to say that although I thought this podcast was fantastic and very revealing, at least for someone who has never really scrutinised the Book of Mormon in this way before other than overhearing that there have never been horses or elephants found in the areas in questions. I mean, if it was just horses and elephants I could live with that. I probably had never even noticed that there were horses mentioned in the Book until someone told me there were no horses found in the Americas. Big deal!

    OK, to get back on track, do we have an equivalent of Richard Bushman in this area. I would have loved this to be a panel discussion rather than an interview. This is heavy stuff and I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet.

    • Anonymous October 7, 2011 at 11:14 am - Reply

      I think Terryl Givens provides a framework that will be helpful for many. Have you read, “By the hand of Mormon” yet? Also, check out his podcast when you have time.

      • Nathan October 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm - Reply

        Thanks John, I will download the podcast now. I have heard of him and his work but never had time to look closer.

  53. Nathan October 7, 2011 at 11:05 am - Reply

    This is a quote from Dr Coe’s dialogue article, “But  how  is  one  to reconcile  this dating  with  the flat  statement  of  Joseph  Smith himself  that  Palenque was  a  Nephite  city?  This  Maya  center  was  built after  600  A.D.,  according  to  all modern  scholarship,  some  215  years  after  the  Nephites  had  been  wiped  from the  surface  of  the  earth.  I can  only sympathize with  the Mormon  scholar  who has to work  that  one  out!”

  54. Nathan October 7, 2011 at 11:15 am - Reply

    I adored the Dr. Coe’s dialogue article. Thanks so much for posting it!

    • Anonymous October 7, 2011 at 11:17 am - Reply

      My pleasure. :)

  55. Nathan October 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    I also saw this youtube video of someone having a bit of fun and writing a song that goes along with the Jurassic Park theme tune.

    The lyric goes like this:
    It’s called Jurassic Park, even though most of the dinosaurs in it are actually from the Cretaceous Period
    But it doesn’t bother me that there’s a few inaccuracies, speaking paleontologically
    Because I suppose no-one really knows all that much about…(then starts listing dinosaurs in the movie)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6fdywQlmaYThis isn’t a uniquely mormon problem guys!!

  56. Pedro A.Olavarria October 11, 2011 at 12:36 am - Reply

    First of all, let me just start by saying “thank you” to both Dr. Coe and John Dehlin for doing this episode. I love Michael Coe and own two of his books; I especially love the fact that he’s open to discuss Mormon subjects.

    On the whole it was a very enjoyable interview, but Coe does more to demolish Mormon folklore than the Book of Mormon itself. Anachronisms are serious arguments against the book, but the lack of Hebrew script at Copan or “the compass” among the ruins are not. I also wonder about some of the interpretations of the Book of Mormon text. The Lamanites that destroyed Mormon’s people were not some “dark skinned”, de-evolved barbarian race, that slaughtered an advanced “white” race. That idea sits well with Mormon folklore but not what the Book of Mormon itself says.Also, I’m not aware of anyone doing actual “Book of Mormon archeology” and Sorensonesque apologists aren’t expecting to find wheels, gold plates or Hebrew writing among the ruins either. What you do have is people studying the Book of Mormon in light of peer reviewed archeology, but that’s a very different thing. Once again, thank you to Dr. Coe and John Dehlin for this episode.

  57. Pedro A.Olavarria October 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    One last thing, Coe is a grandmaster of mesoamerican archeology but I’m not sure he really has a grasp for the current state of BoM apologetics, nor would I expect him too. He’s got enough interesting things to think about with the Maya:)

     For example, when Dehlin asks him about Lehi’s trail and honey bees in Arabia, Coe respeonds by stating that the NW bee and the OW bee are two different species that evolved independantly of one another. When Dehlin asks Coe about possible loan shifts in Nephite vocabulary that might explain equating something like a tapir with a horse, Coe describes how the Spanish brought actual bovine to the NW and together with the natives applied the Mayan word for tapir, tsimin, to the new animal but then insists that linguists know where and how the Mayan language developed etc. When talking about the Jaredites and the Olmec, all Coe says is that there is nothing in the Olmec that comes from the Middle East, it’s all native american.My problem with this is that  none of the apologists I read(Sorenson, Gardner) would disagree with him on those points. I’m not aware of anyone claiming that NW bees came from the OW or that the Mayan language came from Hebrew. Similiarly, no one is claiming that the Olmec are the Jaredites but rather that the Jaredites are a dynasty who’s founders originated in the OW; they participated in Olmec culture the way Mormons participate in American culture, but that’s a very different thing.

    Coe reminds us that we’ll never find chariots because they didn’t exist, but doesn’t seem to realize that most apologists agree with him on that point. Nothing written about the Book of Mormon by Gardner, Clark or Sorenson is mentioned or discussed BUT there’s a whole lot of Ancient America Speaks and Izapa 5, a video and false correlation that deserve to get blasted. The Coe interview does alot to blast a hole through Mormon folklore about the Book of Mormon and I appreciate Coe’s willingness to discuss Mormon things for 3 hours. Thanks again:)  


    • Anonymous October 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Pedro — All the items you list reveal the degree to which I was un-prepared for this interview. In that respect, I am guilty as charged.

      • Pedro A.Olavarria October 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm - Reply

        You’ve got a tough gig brother. Your blog covers a wide range of subjects and it’s impossible for anyone to be up to date on every Mormon issue. Depression, gays, mesoamerica, polygamy, egyptology, biology, fundamentalists, folk magic; the very fact that you have a forum where people can listen to Givens, Coe, Petersen, Toscano, Quinn and Bushman is a victory in and of itself:)

  58. […] Coe, Michael. “An Outsider’s View of Book of Mormon Archaeology.” Interview by John Dehlin. Audio blog post. Mormon Stories. 18 Aug. 2011. Accessed Sept. 2011 <https://www.mormonstories.org/?p=1880&gt;. […]

  59. Dan November 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    Does anyone have a problem with the premise of this interview? i.e. “If the BoM is true, then it happened in Mesoamerica.” It seems that the “geography” of the BoM began with archaeological sites, then tried to fit geography around them. And now we are finally accepting that the BoM infrastructure actually reads 99% wood structures and dirt mounds, which tend not to leave a lot of trace 1400 years later. It is more likely that the BoM has nothing to do with Mesoamerican archaeology. A lot of disconnects in the original premise here.

    • Anonymous November 8, 2011 at 7:15 pm - Reply


      Fair enough, but does it trouble you that all modern-day prophets, including Joseph Smith, claimed as such?


      • Dan November 9, 2011 at 9:50 am - Reply

        I think “all modern-day prophets” is a slight generalization. That would technically include every president and apostle, and frankly (and thankfully) they’ve kept pretty mum in the last 20 years on that kind of speculative talk. I guess I would answer your question by saying no, it doesn’t bother me. We have different levels of communication from our leaders, and the forum and way they are presented to us dictate how credible the communication is. For example, we certainly haven’t voted that mesoamerican orgins of the BoM as canon anywhere, and that’s typically where I stop concerning myself about doctrine and revelation these days. And even canon has plenty of caveats built in it, stating we can expect fallibility. I think the Lord has provided, as part of the inspired organizational structure, a way that revelation is “vetted”, i.e. through voting as canon, because he knew the type of people he was going to call to lead his church would also be supsceptible to shooting from the hip. Otherwise we would have to assume that all the polygamists sects are also true since John Taylor said (and wrote as un-canonized revelation) that it could never be recinded, and that we should have missionaries regularly dusting off their feet at the Vatican, per Elder McConkie (and plenty of other examples I’m sure come to mind). I think knowledge, learning and revelation for the whole church and world are not discrete events, but rather an iterative, progressive process, much like the allegory in Alma 32 says it is…

        • Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

          Dan – Your interpretation about/comfort with this level of prophetic fallibility, to me, seems to be out of harmony with how they prefer us to view, believe and obey them in modern times (i.e. “follow the prophet).
          This may not be troubling to you, but it is to a lot of people….and I think that this dynamic should be acknowledged as problematic by anyone who wants to be taken seriously in a thoughtful discussion about the LDS church.
          In other words, if this isn’t troubling for you, it’s hard for me to take you seriously.

          • Dan November 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

            Hahaha… well I also voted for Obama which is certainly a sin by most LDS standards (and if I told people at church, they would also stop taking me seriously). Yes, I generally think that Mormon culture is not equivalent to Mormon doctrine, and a lot of people get them intertwined, especially in Wasatch Front. I mean, how many spurious “doctrines” came out of “Saturday’s Warrior”, compared to what we actually do believe about the premortal existence from scripture? The thing that really shifted my paradigm about this subject (i.e. filtering canonized doctrine from cultural doctrine) was reading “How Wide the Divide” which was co-authored by Stephen Robinson and an evangelical scholar. Because they iteratively looked at each other’s drafts before publishing, they had to pull all undefensible assertions. Robinson therefore acknowledged outright that Mormon doctrine had to be limited to the canonized standard works in order to hold a defensible position. Not only did that bring about a great discussion, but it made my life much easier to live.

            So, essentially, I am comfortable that if I want to, I can believe that mesoamerican origins of the BoM is bunk, vote for Obama, accept and teach evolution AND support gun control, and still hold a temple recommend and be a bishop. (and I think many of your podcast interviews would support my position)

            BTW I do enjoy most of your podcasts. I think you got a little steamrollered on this one. Coe comes across as very nice and very scientific, but then disproved both, I thought, by his backhanded remarks about his LDS colleagues (in one sentence praising their scholarship, and in another reducing them to the level of a circus clown for their beliefs) and his very un-scientific mantra of “No possibilitiy of this, none, zero!”. As an engineeer, I took exception to this last rhetorical device because somebody talking scientifically would answer in terms of probability, and there is very rarely a 0% probability out there, especially in a field where so little has actually been uncovered. Anyway, a typical Ivy-Leaguer.

          • Anonymous November 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

            What is the probability that my foot is a gorilla living in the Washington D.C. Zoo?

    • Jonah Swan November 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Actually,  your position makes the same error.  You start with the complete lack of archaeological evidence and then you attempt to “fit” an apologetic position within the context of that lack of evidence–the “zero-evidence” apologetic so to speak.  Your theory–Book of Mormon civilizations were built on wood structures that leave no trace and therefore require zero archaeological substantiation–is a single position for a single issue.  Even if we were to assume that theory were true, it completely breaks down when you apply it generally across all the Book of Mormon issues.  That “zero-evidence” theory cannot and does not play out across the more comprehensive lie–the lie that a Eurasian civilization existed in somewhere the Americas, built on Eurasian domesticable plants such as wheat and barley, Eurasian domesticable animals such as elephants, horses, cows, and sheep, and Eurasian technologies such as steel swords, helmets, breastplates, chariots, etc.  Here among these issues in the more comprehensive lie, the zero evidence theory doesn’t work precisely because there actually does exist a vast supply of evidence contradicting such preposterous claims.

      • Dan November 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm - Reply

        A valid point. I don’t necessarily get hung up on the metals that much. They corrode (and if my condo in Mexico is any indication, very rapidly), and Coe himself admitted that there was surprisingly little left of a metals battle such as the battle of Hastings, which was only 1000 years ago. Animals I have no answer to, so it ends up in my backburner pot, along with a few other companions, for another day. A pot which I believe anyone who pursues both faith and science necessarily maintains. However, the same argument can go back more metaphysically. Is there evidence of God? My personal opinion is that my feelings of love, intelligence, humor, hope, and especially repentance are much more explicable with a God theory than not, and especially an Atoning figure. And a book that focuses on those, to the point of resonating each much more strongly to my unseeable spiritual side (although the BoM is admittedly a little shy on humor), should not readily or easily be discarded. I also see that our secular understanding (let’s call it Mormon Cultural Doctrine, as I defined above) changes over time, matures, brings in new information, adjusts, and may be different tomorrow, regardless of how much money one may be making by taking gullible Utahns to see their remains. So, in my view, there’s still hope. Dr. Rosenvall’s theories about the Baja are interesting in that they resolve a lot of dissonance about the Mesoamerican theory. They don’t resolve the animal question, yes, but the idea that we don’t need to be tied to a particular paradigm due to tradition in order to maintain our testimony is an important outcome. Remember, it is not the church’s mission to find an archeological site for the BoM, its merely an interesting diversion (I know you will attack me for that one).
        I guess I’m realizing I was frustrated because Mesoamerica origins of the BOM is NOT doctrinal, but it was a base assumption of the interview. And it is a base assumption of a lot of critics of the church, because so many church members believe it. So instead of attacking an annoying cultural doctrine issue in the church, which would be great, I think it unfortunately diverted into an attack that is not, in my mind, directly relevant. Again, I like your podcasts John and don’t be offended. I’m just saying this for those listeners whose faith is on the line. I think it is an important distinction.

        • Jonah Swan November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm - Reply

          This idea that an entire civilization of metallurgy could simply corrode and disappear is absolutely untenable, so don’t put it on the shelf or in a pot.  Keep it in your mind like a sliver in the brain telling you that there is something wrong with the matrix.

          Just to show you how false that assumption is, I challenge you to do a search on ebay or the internet for ancient swords from Rome, China, etc.  They’re all over the place, from many different periods of time.  That’s how common they are; they’re on ebay. Further, the geological smelting signatures do not disappear.  Lastly, the idea that all traces everywhere would have disappeared from corrosion is preposterous.

          In the middle of my three year search, I found myself collecting maps pinpointing the thousands and even millions of stone-based weapons called Clovis Points and Folsom Points that date back to 10,000 BC.  The Maps show a dot for every location where these tips are found.  The North, Central, and South American Maps were covered with these locations.  A stone tip is literally indiscernible from the landscape–not easy to find because they look like rocks and can’t be detected with metal detectors–but millions of these things have been found from the top of the Northern Arctic to the southern tip of Argentina.  They found a clovis tip wedged into the rib of a Mammoth Skeleton dating back 10,000 BC.  Crazy. You ask yourself how all of this can be found and yet not a single metal scrap has been found–with the aid of metal detectors–or produced to substantiate the BOM’s metallurgical culture.  The zero evidence theory–that it all corroded and disappeared–is implausible.  It’s  a preposterous claim.  Figure it out. You’re an engineer with a head on your shoulders. 

          As far as the animals go, you’re on the right track.  The BoM is preposterous.

          By now, all these slivers should be causing a little schitzophrenia :-) between your rational and spiritual capacities.

          In my opinion, the most important factor for discovering that the BOM is fictional–even more important than all of this negative evidence against the BOM–is a single proposition that unlocks everything: you can believe the BOM is fiction and still be a fabulous member of the church.  People will disagree, but only because they don’t have the courage to discover the truth–the truth that the BOM really is fiction.  Once you discover that truth, you’ll understand why you can also remain a fabulous and a very worthy member of the church. 

          Nietzsche said, “Faith means not wanting to know the truth.” That should never be our motto.

          • Dan November 10, 2011 at 10:22 pm

            Well I appreciate your point of view but I don’t see myself making a quest out of it like you and Brother Chistensen have. If I can remain a faithful member either way (according to you) then  it shouldn’t really matter. Besides, I’m just not wired that way, although I imagine it will always keep me interested peripherally. 

            BTW I did see some very corroded metal pieces in the La Paz, Mexico museum last November. They claimed to be pre-Columbian. I guess I would frame the issue that if limited metal processing was brought over by Nephi (and it seemed that was partially revelation rather than apprentice-learned, so may not have been Eurasian style), and the destruction of the civilization was as complete as claimed, then would it be possible that the remains of such pieces could have been localized? I know you question my ignorance of the probabilities, but I suppose if I was God and teaching my children faith, then that inherently would mean that the answers didn’t always align with the preponderance of evidence. In fact, I think many of the miracles that religious people claim to experience (and I certainly have to believe many of them) are not impossible, but rather, improbable.

            In the end, I don’t stay in the Church because I find the history intellectually compelling. I stay because I watch TV and see half a million women and children raped during a war in Africa and think, short of nuking Africa, how can we change that? I don’t see many other organizations with the moral focus to change people’s hearts for the better. And the Book seems to have a lot to do with that.

          • Jonah Swan November 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

            Those are good points.  The church serves those same values for me.  That’s why I remain faithful and continue to observe and serve for now.

            Having said that, those experiences and all those values don’t make the Book of Mormon a historically authentic book. You need to separate that out for yourself.  More importantly for me, believing in the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity means that I have to become a partial person and turn off my intellect. I won’t do that anymore.

            If you find yourself trying to employ BoM apologetics to explain that in BOM language, an elephant really just means an anteater, a horse actually means a tapir, a steel sword really means a club with flint stones embedded in it, a chariot is well, who knows, and so forth, then you may start to think that it’s time to use that engineer brain of yours and realize that you are indeed wired for truth. It’s just that the system of theology has turned those capacities off and they lie dormant in you. Wake up Neo. Wake up.

  60. Truthseeker December 7, 2011 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Just started listening to it but it seems to be one of the best I’ve ever lisened to.  Kudos my man,

    • Anonymous December 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks, bro. Twas fun.

    • Anonymous December 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      P.S. Couldn’t have done it (literally) without MormonThink.

  61. Fanny Alger December 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    This is terrific John…YEEEESSSS, bones can survive 2000 years!!  Ever heard of NEANDERTHALS?  :)

  62. […] 307-311: Translating the Book of Mormon with Brant Gardner December 28, 2011By John DehlinIn our 5-part conversation with Brant Gardner about his new book entitled “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon,” we discuss most of the major issues with the Book of Mormon including: Joseph Smith’s use of folk magic, the Book of Mormon translation process (including the peep stone in the hat), Book of Mormon anachronisms, DNA and race.  This interview attempts to address many of the issues discussed in our interviews with Grant Palmer and Dr. Michael Coe. […]

  63. xyz January 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    I have a difficult time discounting Brian Stubbs’ work on Uto-Aztecan and a very early version of Hebrew. I am neither a Uto-Aztecanist nor a Semiticist, but I do know something about careful application of the comparative historical method. 

  64. MJW February 22, 2012 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    My wife and I recently visited Cancun and stopped by the Chinen Itza Mayan site. When I was in the bookstore, I saw an interesting book by Michael Coe titled “Breaking the Maya Code”. This is an interesting book about the history of deciphering the Mayan writing. After reading this book, I thought it would be fun to spend a few hours and chat with Michael Coe and ask him what he thought about Book of Mormon geography. This podcast was better than any conversation I would have had with Michael Coe – great job on a fascinating podcast! Michael Coe seems like such a genuine, down to earth person and yet is an outstanding scholar. I find it fascinating how world renown scholars such as him cross paths with Mormonism.

    On a related note, I think it would be interesting to host a podcast about various Book of Mormon geography theories. Michael Coe is addressing the Meso American theory but there are dozens of others. One of the interesting quirks about Mormonism is the fascination and zeal its members have on particular geography theories. There are some who devote their entire lives to a particular geography theory (and try to make money off of it :). It would be interesting to learn the history of Book of Mormon geography theories, the evolution of these theories, and speculate on what Mormons will come up with next. There was even a recent spat between FAIR and group pushing for a North American model. I wonder if there is an expert that can talk about all of the odd geography theories that have been proposed over the last hundred years or so.

  65. David March 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    I thought it was very interesting in the second part when he talked about the racism involved in the idea of a dark fallen people.  From the beginning there was this idea that the natives couldn’t have built great civilizations.

  66. Erwin May 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Here is Ancient America Speaks in Spanish with English Subs!!!

  67. Barbara July 16, 2018 at 2:19 am - Reply

    You don’t need to split hairs to figure out if the history proves or disproves their people’s claims.

    There are many places theoughout the Bible where God himself cautioned against a false religion, and how to test it ANY prophet is a false one. Here is the easiest one: if even one prophecy doesn’t come true, then they aren’t for real.
    The thing is, God was right every single time. It’s scary how exact the ohricecies in the Old Testament were, and how they were fulfilled “ to a ‘T’”.

    Also…and the Old Testament and New Testament tell us that Jesus WAS the prophecy. His birth, death, and resurrection were prophecies with scary attention to detail. And if He is the prophecy…then we don’t need another prophet. And what for?
    Jesus purpose was to die and be resurrected to die the death that we deserve for our sins and we are gifted redemption and eternal life for rejecting our sin and believing in Him!
    And what Mormons don’t seem to understand (and what all Christians are after with the point of Christianity) as Christians, our ultimate goal is salvation and to life WITH God in heaven. Not rule our own planet or become Gods. We don’t have such simple earthly ideas as needed to be with our family or continue to do Earth based tasks, like procreate or rule. There is a very clear divide between creator and creature in the Bible. Every Christian (no matter the denomination, or translation, which we have all the originals of,by the way, why do I get the feeling that Mormons believe we don’t have our source material to double check from??) believes that we are wanting salvation in Christ. Nothing else. God’s presence is the point.
    “There were none before and there shall be none after. “ “there are no other gods besides me. I know not one. “ he makes it clear that he is God if the heavens AND the earth. He is not limited to here. He’s GOD for heavens sakes! Just because it was hard for Joseph to wrap his head around doesn’t mean that he can throw away the most sacred view of Christianity.

    Our goal is NOT exaltation. How haughty. Other Christians think you’re full of yourselves and think you’re better than everyone else because of THAT. Not because of the wonderful community you have or the way you treat others the way you’d like to be treated. That part is awesome. What we don’t like is the heresy, thinking you can attain clarity with our maker. It’s incredible.

  68. Matt Brown July 27, 2020 at 2:41 am - Reply

    Such a great podcast! Interestingly enough, when I was a kid a had a book that he was one of the authors of, Atlas of Ancient America, and I remember being so excited to read it and figure out which one of these civilizations was the Nephites! I figured it would be pretty obvious, seeing as they are so well described in the Book of Mormon. Funny story, I didn’t find any that fit the description.

  69. Michael August 6, 2020 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    John, I don’t know if you ever got your question about Ancient America Speaks answered (I don’t see it here in the comments), but if you’re still needing it, I just found it on youtube:

  70. Matthew W. I. Dunn January 2, 2021 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    It seems to me that the LDS interviewer — who, I guess, is supposed to be a “liberal”? — will only allow for two responses:

    (1) The Book of Mormon is an authentic record of the ancient world and, . . . hence, true as its stands,

    or (failing that due to contrary achaeological evidence)

    (2) The Book of Mormon is an act of prophecy by Joseph Smith and . . . hence, still true as it stands.

    Honestly, it feels like Coe is arguing with the living room furniture.

  71. Susan May 27, 2021 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    There’s a note in red that you need a link to a movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I9LDLcIh9g

  72. Nate August 4, 2022 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I’m doing an Anthropology paper at Weber State about the accuracy of BOM narrative and these podcasts were invaluable. Thank you!

  73. Bruce E. Dale September 20, 2023 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Dr. Dehlin:
    In spite of Dr. Coe’s claims that the Book of Mormon has nothing in common with ancient Native American cultures, I have identified over 150 specific correspondences between the Book of Mormon and the ancient Maya.

    Dr. Coe actually knew very little about the Book of Mormon (he read it only once in about 1973) or perhaps he would have seen the many ways the Book of Mormon fits very well in ancient Mesoamerica.

    These correspondences/points of evidence are found in nine editions of his book “The Maya” and also in another more academic book entitled “The Ancient Maya” by Drs. Sharer and Traxler. These correspondences with the Book of Mormon are documented and summarized in two papers I have published. Here are the links.



    Perhaps your audience would enjoy a counterpoint interview with me entitled “An Informed Insider’s View of the Book of Mormon and the Ancient Maya”… or something similar. :) Then perhaps there would be fewer faith crises for you to deal with.

    If you accept my invitation to invite me on your podcast I promise to be respectful, forthright and entertaining. :) It will be fun.

    Best wishes,
    Bruce E. Dale, Ph. D.
    Michigan State University

    • Jerry April 29, 2024 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Bruce, it feels like with a comment like this it should also be disclosed that your Ph. D. is in Chemical Engineering and not something relevant to the topic you are referencing to avoid confusion.

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