Race: a scientific primer

This guest post on race is by Jared of the ever excellent LDS Science Review.

When I was an undergraduate at BYU one of my professors told our class the story of an experience he had while conducting a genetic study that included residents of Utah. In the course of the study he determined that in a certain family, a daughter was not the biological offspring of the father. He met with the family to explain the findings relevant to the study and was asked by the father about the daughter. After an awkward moment my professor told the father that the daughter was not his genetic offspring. To my professor’s relief this was not a surprise to the father–but the father had a different problem. The family was LDS and the daughter had been sealed to him. At the sealing the officiator told the family something to the effect that the daughter’s blood had been changed. This father expected his daughter’s genetic identity to reflect this change. My professor managed the best answer he could–that whatever the changing of blood meant, it didn’t mean a change in genetic identity.

This story (told to the best of my memory) is one example of the difficulties we sometimes have overlaying our theological and scriptural concepts of lineage and race onto our growing scientific understanding. In the wake of a recent post, Ronan invited me to provide some scientific perspective on race. I should state that I don’t have any special training in anthropology or population genetics. What I present here is my understanding based on some limited reading in the scientific literature.

Perhaps the best way to put race into perspective is to begin with the emergence of humans. Archaic humans developed in Africa and began to spread out into Europe and Asia around 2 million years ago. Anatomically modern humans emerged around 200,000 years ago in Africa and a subset of that population began expanding out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, and Australia around 50,000 years ago. Although there is still some debate, the emerging picture indicates that there was some interbreeding between the modern and archaic humans with archaic humans ultimately going extinct. Modern humans then spread from Asia into North America around 15-20,000 years ago. This general scheme is supported by both fossil and genetic evidence.

As humans expanded into new territories and became isolated from one another for both geographical and cultural reasons, it makes sense that populations would begin to diverge from one another genetically and develop adaptations to their environment, thus giving rise to populations differing in morphology and in genetic make-up. However the degree of divergence should not be overstated. Humans are more homogeneous than many other species, including chimpanzees. The variation between human groups accounts for only 10-15% of total human genetic variation–the remaining 85-90% is shared.

The term ‘race’ has a number of imprecise meanings and is used in ways that encompass culture, religion, demographics, and visible morphology. In terms of zoological classification and systematics, humans do not meet the criteria for subspecies. So usage of the term ‘race’ as a synonym of ‘subspecies’ is not supported for humans. Nevertheless genetically similar people do tend to cluster geographically and a person’s genotype can be used to infer their geographic area of ancestry, although there are rarely any sharp lines of demarcation. (For efforts to correlate genetics with geography and ancestry, see here.) There is no such thing as a genetically ‘pure’ population.

It is intuitive that people from different regions look different from one another. Africans look different than Scandinavians–there must be some genetic basis for this difference. My impression is that the genetic basis for many ‘racial’ traits is poorly understood. There is not a simple one-to-one relationship between a particular gene and skin color, for example. Rather, a number of genes appear to play a role, which makes the connection between genotype and phenotype difficult. The darkness of skin color does generally correlate with UV exposure and inversely correlate with latitude, and is thought to represent an adaptation generated by natural selection. However as far as I am aware, the timing of the development of outward racial features in human history is largely unknown.

Recently Lamason et al. identified a gene that affected pigmentation in zebrafish. Extending their work to humans, they found two variants of the gene that correlate strongly with either African or East Asian populations versus European populations. The African form of the gene can be inferred to be the ancestral form and appears to account for about 30% of the difference in skin pigmentation between Africans and Europeans. That the ancestral form is also present in East Asians indicates that other genes play a role in their lighter skin color.

Prominent racial physical features can seduce us in to forgetting the much more complicated genetics that can exist in a person of a given race. What we see in the outward appearance represents only a small part of the genome. This is illustrated in a study by Parra et al. where Brazilians were tested for alleles indicative of European or African ancestry. They found that on an individual level, color was a poorly predictive of genomic African ancestry, based on molecular markers.

In spite of the problems of racial designations, they do serve some practical value in a scientific setting. For example, certain racial groups are known to be at higher risk for the development of various medical problems. In the absence of genetic analysis, race can serve as a useful (though imprecise) proxy and aid in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Overlaying a traditional LDS understanding of race and lineage onto the above information leads to a number of difficulties. Fortunately one of the greatest difficulties, the denial of priesthood to blacks and the attendant theological justifications, is now behind us. I look forward to the resolution of remaining ones.

————–

References and Further Reading:

(Note: Most of the references I provide here are freely available online.) Nature Genetics 36, (01 Nov 2004) has several articles on race. See particularly Jorde and Wooding, “Genetic variation, classification and ‘race,’ and Keita, et al., “Conceptualizing human variation.” Barsh, What Controls Variation in Human Skin Color?, PLOS Biology Vol. 1 (1) 2003. Lamason et al., SLC24A5, a Putative Cation Exchanger, Affects Pigmentation in Zebrafish and Humans, Science, Vol. 310 No. 5755. (Abstract only–subscription required.) Parra et al., Color and genomic ancestry in Brazilians, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100 (1): 177. Also see the Wikipedia entry for race.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this Jared. One doesn’t have to be a scientist (I ain’t), to realise that this section from the Wikipedia is just common-sense:

    Darker skin appears to be strongly selected for in equatorial regions to prevent sunburn, skin cancer, the photolysis of folate, and damage to sweat glands (Sturm et al. 2001; Rees 2003).

    I’ve known this since being a kid; it has come as a shock this last couple of days to find out that people still think (disputed) scriptural aetiologies represent some absolute scientific truth. Oh well, onward ever onward.

  2. “I’ve known this since being a kid; it has come as a shock this last couple of days to find out that people still think (disputed) scriptural aetiologies represent some absolute scientific truth.”

    Ronan, I think the reason you are so shocked by people’s comments is because you misread them and so misrepresent in your mind what they are. If you keep that up you are going to have a lifetime of

    1. feeling shocked and
    2. thinking lots of people are either ignorant or evil.

  3. From the other thread, it was my impression that you thought that black people are black because God changed the colour of Cain’s skin and his descendants still live under that mark, said descendants being Africans. If I have misunderstood you, I apologise.

  4. Apology accepted :)

    I never said a word about why people are black today. I never said a word about “Africans” at all. I am not even sure if Cain even _has_ descendents today much less what color they are.

    As I said on that thread (at least twice!), “I don’t think that believing Cain’s seed was black has any required implications for black people today.”

    But no, I say the words “black skin” and you think you’ve walked into a Klan meeting…

    In the words of a friend, “Oh well, onward ever onward.”

  5. Frank: salaam aleikum.

    Now, on to Jared’s post. What do y’all think if it? I would make the following conclusions:

    1. There is only one human “race.”

    2. “Racial” variations among humans are difficult to quantify.

    3. Skin colour seems to be mostly linked to climate.

    4. (The controversial point): the notion of “blood” and “race” that excluded a whole group of people from the priesthood was a mistake, but one that seems understandable when one considers the cultural environment that gave birth to it. I suspect that if we all took a DNA test we might find surprising “racial” heterogeneity. I think President McKay began to understand this in regard to Brazil; once President Kimball had overcome heavy cultural inertia, God’s opinion on the matter came swift and sure. Having read something of the 1978 revelation I very much believe it was a revelation and not a submission to political pressure. OD2 was inspired, the ban was not. And no, that provokes nary a contradiction in my mind. I am at peace with this conclusion.

  6. There is only one species, there are no known subspecies. But I don’t know what “race” means since I agree that it is hard to quantify. I think some people go overboard trying to pretend that there are no genetic differences across ethinic or national groups. That’s bunk.

    3 seems reasonable to me.

    4. I’ve never studied the origin of the priesthood ban. I am suspicious of those who jump to call it cultural because I suspect that, like many did on the other thread, they jump to conclusions that they find comfortable. Since I have not studied it myself, I have no particularly strong opinions on its origins. On the other hand, I do believe that if God wished to reverse it immediately, He’d have done it. As Julie noted, President McKay prayed about it and got a “not yet”(!) President Lee apparently prayed about it and it was not rescinded then either. Others may have prayed about it too. Who knows?

    I think God rescinded it according to when God wished to, which likely was a function of the state of the people, but I am doubtful was much a function of the idiosyncracies of the current prophet. It may be more comfortable to say otherwise, but the fact that McKay was told “not yet” lends heavy support to my belief that limits come about because of God’s wishes (given the state of the people) and not the prophet. Does that make the limits “cultural”? I don’t think it does, although cultures matter. Which people were the constraint that made God withhold the priesthood from blacks? I don’t know but I would guess it was the British.

    Was it a test for black people? Clearly, and it still is. Does God test people? Yes, all the time, it’s part of the plan. And I see no reason why this could not be one of those tests. So, in some sense, I believe the Church leaders for the last 100 years or so did what God wished them to do. I have no evidence to the contrary. I am more willing to believe that God tests people than I am to believe that God would let worthy members go 150 years without the priesthood because he didn’t like the phrasing of the last prophetic prayer or didn’t bother to tell the prophet that this mattered enough to pray about. Similarly, I don’t think the Restoration occurred when it did because nobody else had asked what Joseph did. It happened then because that is when God wanted it. And before that event, nobody had the priesthood, regardless of skin color.

    God has denied the priesthood to peoples and groups before, in some cases for hundreds of years. It is His to give as He sees fit. Not as 21st century academics like you and me might think He should. We’re blind idiots.

  7. I heartily endorse your last comment, Ronan, with one minor change:

    3. Skin colour seems to be mostly linked to environment.

  8. Frank (#6): I understand you; I disagree with you, but I understand you. Hey, it’s a start!

    It’s my fault for bringing it up, but whilst another conversation about the priesthood ban would no doubt be refreshing (!), if we do so can we do it in light of Jared’s post (i.e. in light of the scientific notion of race). But, this is BCC, so anything goes! (Well, almost anything: don’t annoy Ms. “BCC Admin”.)

  9. I don’t have any issues with the realities of race on our earth, but I do have a question, for those in the know:

    When the priesthood ban was on (pre 1978) did Fijian men get the priesthood? I ask because they are very dark and could easily appear African, but, as far as we know, are not.

    I see humans on a spectrum of race, rather than in distinct categories, so I wonder at what point in the spectrum did the needle hit red and no more priesthood?

  10. ESO, they did recieve the priesthood. The prohibition was in place only for those of African decent.

  11. J., actually the priesthood ban did extend to Fijians and other Melanesians, but was not applied to Polynesians.

  12. I think that sealer had a screw loose.

  13. Frank,
    In #4 you object to the reaction to your #58 in the Artistic Racism post that “Cain was given a mark, being a skin of blackness.” Here, in #4, you say “I don’t think that believing Cain’s seed was black has any required implications for black people today.”

    I suggest that because of the historical and present context of how biblical stories were re-interpreted to apply to black Africans, and because within Mormonism there are people who believe black Africans are descendants of Cain (having survived the flood through Zeptah/Egyptus), the reaction shouldn’t surprise you.

    Here’s the historical (items 1, 2) and present context (3-5) I’m referring to:
    1. Beginning in around the 17th century, European Christians started to interpret the story of Cain as applying to people with black skin, particularly Africans. They did the same with the story of Noah’s curse of Ham (Neither story mentions skin color.) These interpretations became, to quote Stephen Haynes, the “ideological cornerstone” used to justify slavery of black Africans. Note that historian Benjamin Braude reports that up to the 16th century, the curse of Ham was commonly used to express animus towards Jews, and that it’s use against blacks did not occur prominently until the 18th century.
    2. Americans used these stories to justify 1) slavery, 2) denial of civil rights to black Africans, and 3) extreme physical mistreatment of black Africans.
    3. Prior to 1978, some Mormons used these stories to justify denial of religious benefits (and civil rights) to black Africans. As you may know, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie are the most prominent recent examples of Mormons who interpreted these stories as applying to black Africans. BRM’s Mormon Doctrine, which continues to sell well at Deseret Book today, is the most popular example.
    4. We Mormons added our own bit of folklore regarding Cain and the flood. Some Mormons argued that the seed of Cain survived the flood through Ham’s wife, Zeptah/Egyptus (see Mormon Doctrine, “Egyptus.”). Some (many? how many?) Mormons today still share that belief.
    5. Some Mormons continue to use the above stories to argue that black Africans are related to Cain, that miscegenation is wrong, that skin color is a curse, a result of sin, a sign of inferiority, etc. (each of these teachings is found in Mormon Doctrine). You and I, with our pasty-white skin and jobs and lives in Utah County, may be unlikely to run across instances of this impact on our own. But the contemporary literature has many examples, from hateful remarks made inside Utah temples to African-American temple goers, to the California family Armand Mauss describes whose teenaged children had left the church due to “the insistence of well-meaning white members of their ward that [the children] were descendants of Cain, for which their children were being hazed by their white Mormon peers.” All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, 284. See Bringhurst and Smith’s Black and Mormon for further examples, and multiple articles in various Mormon studies magazines.

    I agree with you that your assertion about “Cain” may have no “required implications for black people today.” But, given the context above, particularly the recent and current Mormon context, it seems that it has probable implications for others, perhaps particularly those with dark skin (see the Mauss example in 5 above).

  14. On the Fijians, it appears 1954 was their year of eligibility. This is from Armand Mauss’s 1981 Dialogue essay, “The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church,” reprinted in
    Bush, Mauss, Bringhurst. Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church.

    “It was in the spring of 1954, just after his return from South Africa, that President McKay had his long talk on this general subject with Sterling M. McMurrin, and at very nearly the same time, one of the Twelve reported that the racial policy was undergoing reevaluation by the leadership of the Church.12 Just how serious the deliberations of the General Authorities were at this time we are not yet in a position to know. Only a year later, however, during an extended visit to the South Pacific, President McKay faced the issue again in the case of Fiji, where emigre’ Tongans had settled in fairly large numbers and had intermarried to some extent with the native Fijians.

    The Church had been inconsistent over the years in its policy toward Fijians, and as recently as 1953 the First Presidency defined them as ineligible for the priesthood. President McKay, however, was convinced by his visit to Fiji and by certain anthropological evidence that the Fijians [p.152]should be reclassified as Israelites. He subsequently issued a letter to that effect which not only removed the doubt hanging over the Polynesian converts of mixed blood in Fiji, but also opened up a new field for missionary work. In 1958, a large chapel was completed in Suva, Fiji, and the first Fijians received the priesthood.13 The Negritos of the Philippines had been cleared much earlier, and the various New Guinea peoples were also ruled eligible for the priesthood in the McKay administration.14 An important doctrinal implication of extending the priesthood to all such “Negro-looking” peoples was to emphasize that the critical criterion was not color per se, but lineage (from “Hamitic” Africa).15″

  15. Stirling,

    I didn’t just throw the word “required” in to sound good. I agree absolutely that it is an important part of the sentence. That’s why it was there!

  16. Thanks, Stirling. I was familiar with McKay’s clearance of Fijians, but hadn’t realized that he had previously enforced a prohibition there.

  17. Frank, you seems confident that the priesthood ban represented God’s will. Do you also think that everything that went along with the ban was God’s will too? For example, preaching about cursed lineages and the seed of Cain, ideas about anyone with *any* “negro” ancestry being inelligible (which doesn’t even make sense, because that includes white people), inconsistent practices with respect to Fijians and others, etc. Were all these just “functions of the idiosyncracies of the current prophet?” Presumably God could have reversed these things immediately if he had wanted. If you don’t think that these teachings and policies were God’s will, how can you be sure that the ban was?

    I suspect your answer would be that these things were relatively unimportant, so God might have let them slide, but the priesthood ban was important, so God would never had allowed it had it been against his will. I think that’s a hard distinction to make…those things were very important for lots of people.

  18. Frank, I have a couple of thoughts regarding your argument that the Mormon ban is consistent with divine practice because “God has denied the priesthood to peoples and groups before, in some cases for hundreds of years.”

    I don’t think it works to compare past “priesthood denials” to our practice of denying priesthood and temple blessings to people with “black” ancestry. First, Christ brought in a gospel for all, where “there is neither Jew no Greek, there is neither bond nor free” (to quote one dozens of similar scriptures). All of the N.T., D&C, and BoM are uniform in teaching that Christ’s gospel and blessing are for all people of all nations. None of those books contains or justifies a lineage or ethnic restriction of blessings. In OT times, there was a tribe-focussed theology. The scriptural message since the time of Christ has been that God is not a respecter of persons/tribes/haplotypes.

    But, even if it is fair to compare OT times to the 20th century, our Mormon denial was unique in that it didn’t matter whether the disfavored lineage was patrilineal or matrilineal, or whether the “black” ancestry represented 100% or 3% of the gene contributions. In the O.T., lineage was consistently determined patrilineally (as it was in most other circumstances in Mormonism). Only when it came time to define who was “black” did we accept the American practice of “hypodescent” (where children of an inter-ethnic marriage are assigned the ethnicity of the socially subordinate parent).

    More importantly, in our dispensation, this priesthood/temple ban prevented the recipients from receiving essential blessings (a black member couldn’t get married in the temple, couldn’t receive endowments…). And, we adopted a practice of affirmatively choosing not to preach to black peoples, so they didn’t even have a chance of hearing about the gospel.

  19. Frank, in #6, you write: “I’ve never studied the origin of the priesthood ban. …Since I have not studied it myself, I have no particularly strong opinions on its origins.” [But then you seem to offer some strong opinions]

    Why not study the origins, why not get some background? If you only have two hours to give to understanding the historical context, read Bush’s 1973 excellent Dialogue essay, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,”. (online and free) .
    If you can spare 20 hours, read Bringhurst’s Saints, Slaves, Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism, and the collection of Bush/Mauss/Bringhurst essays in Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (entire book is online and free).

  20. Jared, thanks for your post. I found it a nice quick summary of an area in which I’m very weak (history of human development and migrations). In addition to the articles you mention, are there any books you would particularly recommend on the subject (of human evolution and when we migrated where)?

  21. Christ brought in a gospel for all

    Yet, He did not allow the Gospel to be given to the Gentiles for a while, did he?

  22. I’d like a reference that DOM prayed about lifting the ban and was told, “not yet” (or, as seems more likely given the ongoing rhetoric by McConkie et al, “no.”) The only thing I’ve heard about this is that he was very inclined to do so, but he knew there was no chance for unity in the matter among the twelve. When the twelve disagree, the status quo is maintained.

    Thanks for the great post, Jared. I’ve thought for some years that at its root, race is a social construct that serves both the positive role of cultural unifier and the negative role of oppression and subjugation of the “lesser” phenotype.

    (Mostly OT rant) The hideous hymn “If you could hie to Kolob” is in part so…icky…to me because one of the “there is no end”s is “race.” Of course, by the time you get there, you’re just thinking, “there is no end to this nonsense…” What a waste of a beautiful tune.

  23. Nah, Ann, I think it refers to the human “race” and our eternal existence. At least that’s what I hear. It is a great tune though. Hooray for Ralph Vaughn Williams!

    BTW, everyone should definitely read the Lester Bush article.

  24. Matthew M,

    You fail to understand that Frank is an ECONOMIST, and therefore able to dismiss the claims of all other disciplines even without taking time to understand them.

  25. Eric Russell says:

    My thoughts on the matter are as expressed by Eugene England a few essays later.

  26. Ann, “If You Could Hie…” is actually redeemed by a look at an 1820s dictionary. As Phelps uses it, “race” just means a continuation of progeny, as in “Adam’s race” or “the race of men.” The explicit or predominant linking of the word “race” to differences in skin color comes later in the 19th century, at least at the level of common parlance as described by lexicographers. So Phelps probably means nothing that we would find “icky.” Still, I think they ought to change the hymn to avoid offense, given current sensibilities. And it would be easy enough to substitute the word “grace”–it loses a little bit of the thought, but that would be a worthwhile sacrifice. Amazingly, no one ever asks me what I think :)

  27. Thanks for the links Matthew M, they look fascinating.

  28. Great Discussion,

    I am a new subscriber to the blog. Just wanted to say that all the comments are very interesting. I am a Mormon on record but have left the fold because of many issues, this one include. However, I enjoy this type of respectful, non-bitter discussion of Mormonism.

    This point may have already been put to bed but here are my two cents anyway. What are the implications of the above research on the Tower of Babel and the cultural and linguistic diversity arising from this relatively recent Biblical event? If this was not indeed the epicenter of cultural diversity does this not seriously question the authenticity of the Book of Mormon (Book of Ether, Jared and the submarines,etc.)?

  29. Dustin,

    For background, I’m active, but far from orthodox.

    I don’t understand your question. If it helps, to me the Tower of Babel is a myth that conveys mankind cannot save itself and only the Almighty can provide a way back to His presence (a Messiah, JC). We certainly don’t need the Tower of Babel to explain all the linguistic and cultural diversity among humans today. Moreover, I assume the bible genealogies aren’t complete and Modern Humans have been around a lot longer than a fundamentalist viewpoint of the bible would indicate. It wouldn’t surprise me if Y chromosome Adam who lived ~60,000 years ago was indeed our Adam, the first modern human capable of abstract thought, art, etc, and the first to attempt a primitive prayer seeking guidance from a being he perceived but couldn’t see.

    Please rephrase the question if I’m totally off the mark.

  30. Dustin,

    The Tower account in the Book of Mormon does not fall to some of the historical glosses found in the Bible. I do not think a close reading of that account requires one to believe that somehow the Tower of Babel was the origin of all the cultural and linguistic variation in the world. But that’s a story for another day….today I want to praise Marduk, Enlil and all the gods of Babylon that I have read a comment by Steve EM and agree with it 100%! Ludlul bel nemeqi!

  31. I was pretty sure that Phelps was referring to “race” in the human race sense. My 21st century white liberal PC sensibilities still wince at the phrase.

    I like this text (hymn 179 in the Methodist hymnal) MUCH better:

    O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.

    Sorry for the hijack…

  32. Re #20

    Matthew M,

    I don’t know what your science background is, but Carl Zimmer recently published a book with the Smithsonian on human evolution. In fact, I think Human Evolution is the title. I do not own the book, but I thumbed through it at a public library. It looked like it was written for people with no particular science background. I have several of his books and have enjoyed them.

    There is also an interactive map at this National Geographic website where you can learn a lot.

  33. I’m out of my element on the Tower of Babel. My basic thought is that maybe it was a historical event, but that it took place in a much bigger context than the biblical writers were aware of.

  34. Mathew,

    Thanks for the reading list. I’ll be sure to look at it if the urge strikes me to know more.

    Ed/Stirling,

    I am curious as to which of these issues, if any, moves you from believing that God was in charge of this issue to believing that He wasn’t. And what is the methodology that allows you to decipher which prophetic movements or lack of movements are Divine and which aren’t? It seems to me that I am not likely to do well at that guessing game, but perhaps you have some light to shed on that matter.

    If it is important that we recognize this issue as a Church, why hasn’t the prophet mentioned it, since he is the mouthpiece for the Lord? It is not like you have the keys to publicly say when the prophet is right or wrong. What is your guidance on how to think about what it is our place to say publicly and what isn’t?

    Kristine,

    I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Could you rephrase that into some sort of statistical model?

  35. Ann (#22), you’ll want to read Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. It has a chapter discussing McKay and issues of civil rights and the priesthood/temple ban.
    In partial answer to your question, here’s a quote from that chapter, but Prince spends at least several pages discussing your exact question.

    “A special committee of the Twelve appointed by President McKay in 1954 to study the issue [of the priesthood/temple ban] concluded that there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that the church membership was not prepared for its reversal…Personally, I knew something about the apostolic study because I head Adam S. Bennion, who was a member of the committee, refer to the work in an informal talk he made to the Mormon Seminar in Salt Lake City on May 13, 1954. Mckay, Bennion said, had pled with the Lord without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe.” [p. 80 of Prince's David O McKay and the Rise of Modern
    Mormonism
    ," quoting p. 183 of Arrington's Adventures of a Church Historian.]

    [Prince continues:] “Three things are significant about Arrington’s account. First, as he had told McMurrin, McKay saw the issues as changeable policy rather htan immutable doctrine. Second, as he had stated in South Africa, even though it was a policy that was changeable, it would require a revelation from the Lord to change it. He did not make it clear why he felt a revelation was necessary—that is, whether it was because the policy had been instituted by the Lord in the first place, or whether this man-made policy had become so firmly entrenched that changing it would require the force of revelation to convince church members that it needed to be changed.”

  36. Frank: “I am curious as to which of these issues, if any, moves you from believing that God was in charge of this issue to believing that He wasn’t.”

    I didn’t take a position on whether God was in charge, you did. So I’m confused why you are asking me this question, rather than answering the similar question that I posed to you. Maybe you were really responding to Stirling, and not to me.

    BTW, I don’t know what got into Kristine, slandering not only you but all economists. I think your points about scriptural bases for beliefs about racial differences on the other thread were sound, and everybody should stop attacking you and misrepresenting your position just because they don’t like the implications of your points.

  37. ed, I didn’t mean to slander all economists, only the ones who think their theories are worth reading no matter how ignorant they are of the relevant data.

  38. ed,

    Sorry for lumping you with Stirling. As for Kristine, pay it no mind. We went a couple rounds a while back on methodology and she is still looking for vindication. If all economists must be slandered as a result, so be it :).

    As for your questions, I think if God wanted to change one of those decisions, He had the means and the mouthpiece at his disposal. If that was not the case, I know of no way to discern that it was not.

    And thanks for the backup!

    Kristine,

    “only the ones who think their theories are worth reading no matter how ignorant they are of the relevant data.”

    Lay it on me! What data am I ignorant of that would let me discern the will of God in this case? If you know of such data in one or more of the publications mentioned, I am more than ready to hear the Cliff notes version. But since my position is that I think God would have changed the policy had He so wished, I am not sure what data could be brought to bear that would be relevant. The question just does not seem amenable to easy refutation shy of revelation from God clarifying His will. I’m happy to be proven wrong, if you know of something, but my guess is that if such magic bullet evidence were available, it’d have been trumpeted far and wide by now and even I would have heard it.

  39. Frank, in #38 writes: “Lay it on me! What data am I ignorant of that would let me discern the will of God in this case?”

    Data suggesting the policy of withholding temple blessings and priesthood participation from “blacks” was not divinely inspired:

    1. Dozens of scriptures from the BoM, D&C, and N.T. teach that the blessings of the gospel should be available to all “who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Ne. 9:21) specifically including “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (2 Ne 26:13). A partial list of scriptures revealed to Joseph with similarly universal teachings includes: 1 Ne 22:28; 2 Ne. 9:5-22; 26:25, 28, 33 (this is the oft-quoted “all are alike unto God” one); Mosiah 27:25, 30; 28:3; Alma 5:49; 29:2; Mormon 9:21-22, 25; Moroni 8:12;.17-18, 22. A partial list of similar verses from the Doctrine & Covenants is: D&C 1:2; 1:34-35; 10:50-51; 18:28; 20:37; 20:59; 33:6; 38:16; 39:15; 38:24-27; 42:58; 45:69; 45:71; 58:7-9; 58:64; 112:1; 112:4; 112:21; 112:28. Some of the New Testament. scriptures that teach a universal gospel are: Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:1-35; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:19; Col. 3:11; Rev. 7:9. If one reads these scriptures literally, they must apply to the various dark-skinned ethnic groups who we would not allow into the temple.

    2. There is no sound scriptural support for the policy. That’s my conclusion. In the late 1950s, David O. McKay thought that there was jus one scripture (in Abraham) that offered some support, while as late as 1979 McConkie still thought there were more than a dozen. Comment # 35 above has the Arrington quote about the 1954 committee of apostles that found there was “no sound scriptural basis for the policy.”

    3. The formal reasons once given for the policy (the scriptures require it, Joseph Smith started it, etc.) don’t appear to be valid. Note that these justifications are no longer offered by church leaders.

    4. The early revelations (some listed in item 1 above), teachings, and practices (including giving the priesthood to at least a couple of men with African ancestry) supported a universal Mormonism that had no ethnicity-based policy. As one example, the First Presidency wrote in 1840 that when the Nauvoo temple was completed “we may soon expect to see flocking to this place, people from every land and from every nation, the polished European, the degraded Hottentot, and the shivering Laplander. Persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color; who shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple, and offer up their orisons in his sanctuary.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 1 No. 12 October, 1840 ).

    5. The historical context in which the policy was implemented and solidified suggests that the policy, similar to the specifics of territorial Utah’s adoption of a slavery law in 1851, was a manifestation of the civil tensions in a country that still allowed slavery. To get a good feel for that historical context, you could read the sources identified in # 19 above. Note that it appears that the policy was initiated by Brigham Young around 1850, but not solidified until around 1900 (at the time the First Pres. meeting minutes show the policy was still in flux as to whether it would be applied to people of mixed “race”). Although, according to Greg Prince, David O. McKay didn’t learn of the ban until 1921 (15 years after he was made an apostle), so it was still fairly obscure at that time.

  40. The following is only slightly off-topic:

    When my wife was in junior high her bilogy class was studying inherited traits and blood type was used as an example. For homework all the students had to ask their parents what their blood types were and then show how their own blood type resulted from their parents’. My wife’s lab partner came to class the next day with her results, and my wife told her that she couldn’t have gotten her blood type from her parents. The lab partner hadn’t figured this out on her own yet. As it turns out the lab partner was adopted and unaware of it. Needless to say, that homework assignment was banned from ever being given again.

    Oh, back on topic now. After having read a bit about it, it seems to me that if the priesthood ban was inspired (which I doubt) that one reason could be as a curse on the membership of the church for harboring racist attitudes. It seems to me that the policy certainly didn’t help the Church in the last 100 years.

  41. Stirling,

    Thanks for the list.

    1. This does not preclude God staggering temporally who will receive those blessings when. Clearly such staggering occurs in practice, given that the Restoration was hundreds of years after the Apostasy. The apostasy also does not invalidate God’s divinity nor His eventualy promises.

    2. As you note, prophets have differed on this question, and I don’t have the keys to argue between them as to the proper Church implications of a scripture. But even if not, I see no scriptures that require that God cannot stagger blessings at times according to His desire, so lack of a scriptureal mandate does not explain why God could not revoke the priesthood ban 100 years earlier if He wished.

    3. Once again, this does not tell me about God’s reasons for not revoking the program. To know that it was not divine, I have to know God’s will. Human errors do not tell me that. Revelation would, but you aren’t claiming these to be revelatory.

    4. I never said that the ban started out as being from a revelation from God. I made this clear in my earlier comment. What I am talking about is God’s subsequent willingness to let it continue.

    5. I don’t see how this tells me that God wanted to end the program but didn’t.

    OK, Stirling, your turn! Answer my questions in 34!

  42. aRJ,

    I certainly don’t know if you are right or not, but it seems a much more fruitful direction to go to think of why the, or some, people were not right for removing a ban rather than why God could not have ended it in His church earlier.

  43. Frank, I’m going to have to second Kristine. You do come off as pretty willing to have a strong opinion on matters where you haven’t done what would seem (to me) to be the basic 101 level of background reading.
    Would you write about child labor issues in Brasil without first reading the existing literature on child labor in Brasil.
    If your approach of both avoiding the reading on the Mormon black issue, and having a strong opinion about it is tied to your need to focus on your own research, getting tenure, etc. I can understand that.
    Frank, I’m going to have to second Kristine. You do come off as pretty willing to have a strong opinion on matters where you haven’t done what would seem (to me) to be the basic 101 level of background reading.
    Would you write about child labor issues in Brasil without first reading the existing literature on child labor in Brasil. course?
    If your insistence on both avoiding the reading on the Mormon black issue and having a strong opinion about it is tied to your need to focus on your own research, getting tenure, etc. I can understand the not reading the information part.
    Frank, I’m going to have to second Kristine. You do come off as pretty willing to have a strong opinion on matters where you haven’t done what would seem (to me) to be the basic 101 level of background reading.
    Would you write about child labor issues in Brasil without first reading the existing literature on child labor in Brasil. course?
    If your insistence on both avoiding the reading on the Mormon black issue and having a strong opinion about it is tied to your need to focus on your own research, getting tenure, etc. I can understand the not reading the information part.
    Ate logo.

  44. Chris Williams says:

    Stirling wrote:

    The historical context in which the policy was implemented and solidified suggests that the policy, similar to the specifics of territorial Utah’s adoption of a slavery law in 1851, was a manifestation of the civil tensions in a country that still allowed slavery. To get a good feel for that historical context, you could read the sources identified in # 19 above. Note that it appears that the policy was initiated by Brigham Young around 1850, but not solidified until around 1900 (at the time the First Pres. meeting minutes show the policy was still in flux as to whether it would be applied to people of mixed “race”). Although, according to Greg Prince, David O. McKay didn’t learn of the ban until 1921 (15 years after he was made an apostle), so it was still fairly obscure at that time.

    Frank McIntyre responded:

    I don’t see how this tells me that God wanted to end the program but didn’t.

    Actually, I’ve always thought this is the very best explanation for the existence of the priesthood ban. It was a product of the times and culture.

    Frank, in order to get a doubter like me to believe that it took God to end the ban you’ll have to show me where God decided the ban was a good idea in the first place. And good luck on that — if the Twelve in the 1950s couldn’t come up with a solid scriptural or prophetic justification, I doubt you’ll do much better.

  45. This whole discussion is confusing me.

    Frank seems to be saying that the ban must have been God’s will because otherwise he would have removed it. But God allows lots of bad things to remain in this world without removing them. Frank, are you really saying that God would never let church leaders make mistakes? And that they have never made any mistakes? Perhaps you’re relying heavilly on the story that said that DOM prayed and got an answer that the ban should remain in place, but I don’t know how solidly attested that story is or how much weight to put on it.

    Stirling seems to be saying the ban couldn’t be inspired because it conflicts with certain scriptures that he likes. Well, if the church is fallible, wouldn’t the scriptures be fallible as well? And what about all the other scriptures that already seem to be in conflict with the ones you like?

  46. Marcus,

    As I said to Kristine, I doubt that such reading could tell me much informative about the will of GOd on this matter. And if it could tell me that, I am still waiting for all the wonderfully well-read people to point out what that evidence might be. If it is just a set of stuff like what Stirling has mentioned, then it is not 101 reading to the question of God’s will, because it does not appear to be informative to the question of God’s will.

    And what exactly do you mean by “strong”. Do you mean contraversial or do you mean unwilling to change? I am willing to change at the drop of a pin if President Hinckley makes a comment on the matter in GC. If contraversial, I think it is more contraversial to claim prophets are systematically wronger than me about the priesthood as to claim anything I have claimed. What would you consider the “basic reading” required for me to claim that 120 years of prophets systematically missed the boat on the priesthood, but that I’ve got the answer?

  47. “Frank seems to be saying that the ban must have been God’s will because otherwise he would have removed it. ”

    This is to overstate what I told Ronan. I start from the default that the direction of the Church, especially on core matters, is in line with God’s will over the sweep of the Church’s history. Before moving from that default, I’d like some evidence. I don’t see any such evidence here, but am ready to hear it if anybody knows any. I have heard interesting things about the beginning of the ban, but I am more interested in its continuation.

    President McKay’s story seems very much in line with my default view, which is that the ban stopped when God wanted it to, given the people on the Earth.

    As I told Marcus, given some reasonably reliable information about God’s will, I am happy to change my default at the drop of a hat.

  48. I think the reason God did not bring about the end of the priesthood withholding practice was that it was necessary, or at least prudent, not just to inspire one man, the Prophet, but to persuade at least the entirety of the 15 prophets, seers and revelators. The D&C does state that decisions of the governing councils must be unanimous. Arrington’s book suggests that the council of 12 did consider the issue in the late 1960s, and I believe only Harold B. Lee objected to changing the practice.

    I think there is a big difference between David O. McKay’s, or even Harold B. Lee’s individually having prayed, even for a period of time over the issue, and Spencer W. Kimball’s not only praying for several years regularly, but meeting individually with the 15 prophets, seers and revelators and personally discussing the matter, and inviting all of them to join in a prayer circle about the matter. (I believe Marion Romney said that had it been up to him, he would not have pushed the issue, but having prayed about the matter as urged by Spencer Kimball, he believed the change was right.)

    In some ways, it is unfortunate that it took so long for the will of the Lord to be made manifest to all the Brethren (with a capital “B”), on the other hand, schism (a la the change in plural marriage) was avoided and the D&C directive of unanimity on an important matter was satisfied.

  49. Chris Williams says:

    Frank McIntyre

    President McKay’s story seems very much in line with my default view, which is that the ban stopped when God wanted it to, given the people on the Earth.

    When did the ban start?

    If it took revelation to end it, why didn’t it take revelation to start it? And if it took revelation to start it, where is that revelation recorded?

  50. a random John says:

    Frank,

    There were articles in one of the Salt Lake papers (probably the Trib) years ago that indicated that the Church was considering issuing a statement on the 20th (or was it 25th?) anniversary of OD2 that would have explicitly repudidated some of the previous teachings. A member in LA had been lobbying for this for some time. When it appeared that the statement might not be issued this member went public about the consideration process, trying to force the hand of the apostles. That is always a bad idea and it was met with silence rather than any statement.

    I wish I could remember more details or even find the article. I’ll keep looking.

  51. Frank,

    When an African American member of the Church asks you why priesthood was withheld for 120 (or 150 or longer) years, how do you respond? Do you respond that the practice began long before Joseph Smith (even to Cain as many Church leaders previously claimed)? Do you respond that it began with Joseph Smith, and his ordaining or authorizing the ordination of African Americans either did not take place or was a “mistake” or “oversight”? Do you respond that it began with Brigham Young (as the historical record, which you prefer not to consult, seems to indicate)?

    Why was the withholding practice related only to those of black African descent? Why would such individuals, and not others, be denied priesthood and temple blessings? Was it purely God’s arbitrariness, or simply a “mystery”, along the lines of God’s declining to explain to Job the reasons for Job’s travails?

    When your child asks you whether you agree with the racialist doctrines taught and that still remain in Mormon Doctrine, and other books still printed by Deseret Book, how do you respond? Why do you think God wanted a large portion of His children, at a time the fullness of the gospel was on the earth, to be without temple blessings for so long? How does one square that with the scriptures (and others) cited by Stirling?

  52. “I start from the default that the direction of the Church, especially on core matters, is in line with God’s will over the sweep of the Church’s history. Before moving from that default, I’d like some evidence.”

    I’m getting the idea that the only kind of “evidence” Frank would accept would be a statement from Church leaders that the ban was a mistake. I think he’ll be waiting a while…I don’t think the church has ever announced when it’s made a mistake. I don’t think that means it doesn’t make any.

    There are lots of other types of evidence: that the ban had obscure origins, that it was butressed publicly by currently disavowed doctrines, that it was inconsistently applied, that it was explained in terms that simply don’t make sense, plus a lot of other points Stirling made. You may not find this evidence convincing enough to override your strong priors, but it’s funny to claim there’s no evidence.

  53. Frank

    Do you somtimes feel like Samuel the Laminite preaching from the wall of a great city. (By the way is an Economist something like a Taxcollector? You know the ones Jesus hung out with.)

  54. Frank

    Do you somtimes feel like Samuel the Laminite preaching from the wall of a great city. (By the way is an Economist something like a Taxcollector? You know the ones Jesus hung out with.)

    You can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    —Marion G. Romney

  55. Frank

    Do you sometimes feel like Samuel the Lamanite preaching from the wall of a great city? By the way is an Economist the same as a Taxcolletor? You know the ones Jesus hung out with.

    You can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    —Marion G. Romney

  56. arJ,

    Check out Mauss’ “All Abrahams Children,” or the Ostlings’ “Mormon America” for a discussion of the incident you reference.

    Aaron B

  57. aRJ, I’ve heard that story too. That would be just the sort of statement I had in mind. Ed apparently thinks that such statements are not done. If God wants the statement made, I think it will be.

    David, congratulations, you have convinced me that there is no way I’m going to be able to keep up with this discussion, which has been going since last Thursday, and still get any research done. I’ll come back to the thread tomorrow or tonight, but, as Marcus noted, I’ve got to get other work done! In general, most of the scenarios you raise I have never encountered and so I have no ready answers to your questions. I would guess the answers would reflect the view I gave in #46.

    As for McConkie, since I think a lot of other authorities with keys did not agree with him, and the views were explicitly stated as just his own, and he certainly was wrong about the timing of when the blacks got the priesthood (and said as much himself, I think), I have great reasons to think he was wrong in important ways. But I like to base those doubts on reasons like what I gave here, not solely because I don’t like what he said.

  58. a random John says:

    Aaron B,

    Thanks! I’ve got Mormon America here somewhere. Unless we’ve loaned it out again.

  59. You can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    —Marion G. Romney

    Frank! Do you sometimes feel like Samuel the Lamanite preaching from the wall of a great city? By the way is an “Econimist the same thing as being a “Taxcollector”? You know the ones Jesus hung out with.

  60. Frank,

    According to the Mauss book, the proposed statement was to “repudiate” teachings about lineages of Cain and their relation to premortal valiance. I see no evidence that an announcement that the ban was a *mistake* was ever contemplated (let alone issued). Even if such an announcement had been issued, I don’t see how it would have changed your position that the ban must have been the will of God.

    Happy researching!!

  61. Space Chick says:

    Julie posted this quote from McConkie on Times and Seasons:

    There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, ‘You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?’ And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.—Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God”

    Too bad those who continue to rely on Mormon Doctrine don’t read this as well. I suspect his statement that “[i]t doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of [1978]” isn’t really sufficient, and we still have questions about what drove the earlier doctrine, but for McConkie to say “[w]e spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world” may be as close to saying “we were mistaken” as we will ever hear.

  62. If anyone is interested in some information on this and some histories of Black Mormons from a black perspective, I would reccomend reading Black LDS and Black Mormon. Both are private endeavours, but substantial.

  63. FYI, the second website referenced in ESO’s entry, Black Mormon posted on angelfire, was created by Darrick Evenson, who is not black, and argues that the curse of Cain is Church doctrine which has never been repudiated. This may be the same Darrick Evenson whose letter resigning from the Church, among other reasons because the Church denies that the curse of Cain is and continues to be official doctrine, was included in the Tanners’newsletter. http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/letters_to_the_editor/2004/2004june.htm

    In any event, if one wishes a defense of the curse of Cain idealogy, that website provides it. Given that I do not believe that the curse of Cain theory is official doctrine (and never was), I am not sure I would recommend the website. I do, however, recommend the first website, LDS Mormon, listed above.

  64. Frank,

    We don’t know much about God’s will, except through what we can infer by reading about his interactions with people, and how they have understood and interpreted his will. One source of this information, of course, is the history recorded in scripture. Another source (for history recent enough that we don’t yet know how the scriptural record of it will look) is some of the excellent historical work people have recommended here. Asking them to summarize it for you and demanding that they prove it will tell you unambiguously about God’s will is a) intellectually lazy, and b) like saying, “ok, I’ll read some literary criticism if you first show me (without reference to any theory) why I can’t just read books in my simplistic way, uninformed by theory.” (Oh, wait…we already had that discussion). In short, you are defending a remarkably simplistic thesis (“I start from the default that the direction of the Church, especially on core matters, is in line with God’s will over the sweep of the Church’s history”) by willfully remaining ignorant of potentially complicating evidence.

    For a smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb way to proceed.

  65. Ed,

    Suppose the Church were to say, “The ban should never have been imposed and it was an error that it took 150 years to end it.” I think that would very nicely provide evidence to the question of God’s will on the matter, from those authorized to give it.

    Kristine,

    I think you are misreading. Let me tell you how I see it. Ronan asked me, in a friendly way, what I thought about the priesthood ban. I gave him my best guess. From there, I’ve been berated for having made that particular guess. I was told to go read up on some academic research. To which I responded that I might, but was doubtful it contained some obvious clincher, and so I wanted to know if anybody had seen something obvious as to why I was wrong. Stirling presented a list, which looked almost exactly like all the stuff I’d heard before. (and yes, Ed, I mispoke, that list does constitute evidence whether I find it compelling or not). This reaffirmed to me that there likely was no magic bullet in those readings.

    And why do I need a magic bullet? Because I do not have the authority to speak for the Church as a whole. So I can only go off what those with the keys to speak for the Church have said or not said. And the best example of that I know, relevant to the question, is David O McKay not getting an answer (or being told not yet, depending on how one reads the evidence). In addition, I have a long line of Church leaders who apparently believed the policy was not to change, shy of a revelation from God or some equivalent device which never happened.

    On the other side of the question I hear evidence about origins of the ban, about which I have no opinion. So once again, if you, in all your reading, or anyone else, has come across any tidbits that pertain to how those with the keys of authority viewed the continuation of the ban, that is different than what I have said above, I am more than happy to hear it. I have not “demanded” anything. I have not asked for “summaries”, just a specific kind of information. It is the sort of request made, and responded to, all the time on the bloggernacle.

    You wish to interpret this request for information as a sign of my horrendous arrogance. Well, if nothing else, you are consistent. :)

  66. Thanks DavidH–I did not realize that the author was not black. I agree that the Black LDS site is a better read.

  67. Kristine: “like saying, “ok, I’ll read some literary criticism if you first show me (without reference to any theory) why I can’t just read books in my simplistic way, uninformed by theory.” (Oh, wait…we already had that discussion).”

    No, actually, we never have had that discussion. Anyway, I’ve never had that discussion. Perhaps you have inferred that from things I’ve said. That would be a great example of how our complicated, nuanced approach to interpretation leads us to make inferences that are, well, shaky. But let me give you direct information from one authorized to make statements about what I believe. I don’t believe that.

  68. Frank, it is the nature of the history of God’s dealings with humankind that there are virtually no “obvious clinchers.” Do you think the Old Testament isn’t much worth reading because it doesn’t give a definitive, concise answer about who Jehovah is or how he will behave? History is messy, and while you may not like wading into the mess, you’re likely to come out with a clearer view of, and maybe a closer relationship with, the God who works with people throughout that history if you wade in, rather than waiting for the Cliff’s Notes from GAs with plenty of reasons not to publish them.

  69. OK, but the example you gave (OT) was canonized scripture. There is nothing equivalent to that in the sources I’ve seen here. Just stuff by academic historians. None of it was written and interpreted by one with the keys to revelation. That doesn’t make it worthless, but it does push it much farther down my reading list.

  70. I said this already–we don’t know what the canonized history of the modern church will look like. All we’ve got for now is the academics. You could say that OD2 is all you need, but you need look no further than the story of OD1 to discover how problematic it is to rely on what’s canonized–was God’s will in the official, canonized declaration, or was it in the continued private actions of the prophet in endorsing plural marriage? I don’t think you can say anything very intelligent about God’s will in this dispensation without at least trying to understand the history, and we’re not likely to have a canonized version of that in our lifetimes.

  71. Your interesting example is to compare the canon to an action of one who holds the keys of revelation. That seems to me to be a much more intriguing comparison than to compare the OT to the writings of academic historians, unless those historians are providing relevant quotes from those who have the keys.

    “All we’ve got for now is the academics.” Not true, I have the actions (or inactions) of the Church leaders who did not revoke the ban and we have some informaton that McKay and Lee may both have made attempts to do so but failed to get what they viewed to be necessary, a revelation authorizing removal. We also know that President Kimball got such a revelation. I have little idea to what extent other leaders may have prayed about it, but I am confident that they’d have made known a revelation to remove the ban had they received it. That is the kind of information a historian could provide that I am interested in. Do McKay’s actions end the question? No, but it seems quite consistent with the view that the ban ended at the time God wished it to end.

    Could the prophets be wrong? Sure, I’m fine with that. But why would you think that academic historians have the authority to push that claim or that I do based on their writings? Historians can write about history, but to interpret the past in relation to God’s will is, to my way of thinking, the role of a seer.

    “But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.”

    It seems to me that Ammon describes exactly the kind of hidden or secret knowledge we need to move forward. We need knowledge about the will of God. There is a key for that and the prophets hold it.

    Finally, you point out our lack of conclusive evidence and then expect this to inspire me to spend a lot of time on the issue? I have to say that that is not my way of thinking. In my research, I go exactly the other way. If a question is not one I am likely to be able to shed light on, or say something meaningful about it, due to a paucity of good data, I don’t research it, I move on to other questions where research will elicit returns. I’ll make a guess if asked and I have one, but that is about it.

  72. Frank, I suspect your final paragraph is the most illuminating thing you’ve written. I’m inclined to pursue the interesting questions without regard for how much evidence I think there is. Perhaps this is because I am the child of an experimentalist and not a theorist. I don’t think you can always know where the good evidence is until you’ve gone looking for it–who’s to say, for instance, that you wouldn’t be the one to read the biographical material on McKay and be struck by the one line from his journal that nobody had paid enough attention to before?? Joseph Smith didn’t read the epistle of James because he knew there was something in it that would answer the question of which church to join–he stumbled on it in the course of being curious. Pursuing questions where the known data is is (arguably) a good way for the NSF to distribute grant money, but it’s not a very good way to answer really interesting questions. That’s what crackpots in garages are for :)

  73. Well there you go. You go right ahead and shoot for the moon.

    I disagree that Joseph Smith did not think the Bible could help him answer his question (in expectation!). I think he was reading it with exactly that hope. I read it with the same hope.

    Also, I’m an empiricist, not a theorist! I’ve gone down enough empirical dead ends to not be anxious to keep doing it.

  74. Suppose the Church were to say, “The ban should never have been imposed and it was an error that it took 150 years to end it.” I think that would very nicely provide evidence to the question of God’s will on the matter, from those authorized to give it.

    Imagine the church coming out and saying they had made a mistake for over 100 years, Blacks should have been able to have the priesthood.

    True or not, it would never happen.

  75. I don’t expect there ever to be an official statement that the withholding of priesthood and temple blessings based on race was an error. First, I think there is a similar division of opinion (or lack of interest) among the Brethren as there is on the Bloggernacle. Second, while we officially eschew infallibility as a doctrine, I expect that an official acknowledgement of error (assuming it was an error) might undermine the testimonies of many members. I think that is why “errors” are rarely officially repudiated but “superseded” (such as by second editions of books) and hopefully forgotten (sometimes a good memory is not such a blessing.) It would be nice if there were a new edition of Mormon Doctrine eliminating some of the speculatory theoretical bases of the prior practice and of racial differences, particularly speculation that under any fair reading is hurtful.

  76. BCC Admin

    Have I been forgiven yet?

  77. Thanks!

  78. Julie, Can I get the full cite from you for the McConkie retraction you mention in #61? Can’t find it on T/S or on lds.org.

    Thanks. Great discussion. Would love to see it tie into the Book of Mormon DNA race article on the right hand sidebar, too…

  79. Mark L. McConkie, ed. Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, (SLC: Bookcraft, 1998) 165

    Also published in: Bruce R. McConkie, “All are alike unto God,” Second Annual CES Symposium (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978).

  80. This month’s issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior has an article by Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost that that suggests that the blonde hair and blue eyes of Northern Europeans is a recent occurrence (roughly, in the last 10,000 years). Frost suggests that the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair was quickly adopted over a short time period due to the process of sexual selection in a hunter-gatherer society that had a relatively scarce supply of eligible male mates.

    The Feb 26 London Times article on Frost’s research states that:

    “Frost’s theory is also backed up by a separate scientific analysis of north European genes carried out at three Japanese universities, which has isolated the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair to about 11,000 years ago.
    The hair colour gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe and the continent has an unusually wide range of hair and eye shades. In the rest of the world, dark hair and eyes are overwhelmingly dominant. “

    The Times article ends with the following sentence, which suggests that the WHO researchers have not visited my ward in Utah:

    “A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.”
    Dobson, Roger, and Abul Taher, “Cavegirls Were First Blondes to Have Fun.” London Times, February 26 2006. (www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2058688,00.html)

    The cite for Frost’s article is: Frost, Peter. “European Hair and Eye Color: A Case of Frequency-Dependent Sexual Selection?” Evolution and Human Behavior 27:2 (March 2006): 85-103.

    The abstract of Frost’s article is: “Human hair and eye color is unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe. The many alleles involved (at least seven for hair color) and their independent origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicate some kind of selection. Sexual selection is particularly indicated because it is known to favor color traits and color polymorphisms. In addition, hair and eye color is most diverse in what used to be, when first peopled by hunter-gatherers, a unique ecozone of low-latitude continental tundra. This type of environment skews the operational sex ratio (OSR) of hunter-gatherers toward a male shortage in two ways: (1) men have to hunt highly mobile and spatially concentrated herbivores over longer distances, with no alternate food sources in case of failure, the result being more deaths among young men; (2) women have fewer opportunities for food gathering and thus require more male provisioning, the result being less polygyny. These two factors combine to leave more women than men unmated at any one time. Such an OSR imbalance would have increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of color traits: hair- and eye-color diversity and, possibly, extreme skin depigmentation.” (www.ehbonline.org/, subscription required for full text of article)

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