An Open Letter to Rodney Meldrum #1
AN OPEN LETTER TO ROD MELDRUM
[Rod Meldrum sent me an e-mail recently. My reply is below. A paraphrased version of Rod's text is in red. I speak only for myself, not the Church of Jesus Christ, FAIR, or the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.]
Thank-you for your recent e-mail. I have also seen copies of your recent exchange with Stan Barker.
I didn’t have your email address. You don’t need to worry, I don’t harass anyone so don’t need to change your contact information. I’m really not a bad guy.
I've never said you were “a bad guy.” I think you have done some very unwise things. [You are welcome to contact me if you have something substantive and not more rants about my evil ways, but firstname.lastname@example.org is far more reliable. The g-mail isn't always checked for days at a time.]
I am happy to hear that you are willing to be civil, but your article was full of sarcasm, and wasn't impressed with what you said about ‘snake oil.’
I think you're mistaking occasional irony for sarcasm. But, in this case irony wasn't even the intent. Do you know what “snake oil” refers to? It doesn't have anything to do with you being a snake or oily, or anything like that. It refers to the patent medicines sold by hucksters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “Snake oil” was one of many things they put in the medicines (or claimed to) because they sounded exotic and fancy. “Snake oil” thus refers to:
“any of various liquid concoctions of questionable medical value sold as an all-purpose curative, especially by traveling hucksters.” [See here.]
So, what I am saying here was not meant in jest, nor in a cruel or sarcastic manner. I meant it very precisely, and I picked the image intentionally.
I mean that your book has pretensions to scientific accuracy and miraculous results, and makes a great many swelling claims for itself. (Just like those useless or deadly patent medicines did.) But, those claims are not borne out by the evidence, they are in many cases ridiculous or in error, and they are offered to the consumer with more marketing and hoop-lah than evidence, restraint, or concern for the patient who will be drinking your (useless, and potentially dangerous) mixture.
Snake oil salesmen still exist in medicine. I encounter them frequently. Some are shysters, but I think it more common (and more dangerous) to have a true believer snake oil salesman —he really thinks that he has something to cure the world, and assumes I must be financially threatened by him or hopelessly biased not to embrace it. Sound familiar? :-)
Now, you may not like that conclusion about your work—I would not expect you to--but I stand by it. And, the evidence for it is the dozens of pages which precede my concluding sentence.
Greg the “Closet Evolutionist”?
I will hopefully respond to the issues you raise soon and give some insight as well.
Well, I hope so too. But, your recent behavior doesn't really give me much cause to hope, does it?
Recently, you have been accusing me of being “a closet evolutionist,” (whatever that is), as well as someone who rejects the clear teachings of the temple endowment, the scriptures, and prophets: and why? Because I said I don't know what mechanism God used to create the bodies of mortal humans:
"Greg is a true believer in the Darwinian theory of organic evolution or even more importantly, he is NOT a believer in the creation accounts of the scriptures, temple ceremonies or the prophets which are clear that Adam was not descended from lower life forms, but was made in the image of God our Eternal Father; not chimps. ...That is how far Greg Smith has climbed aboard the organic evolution train and abandoned the scriptures regarding the creation of this earth and the statements of the prophets that directly refute that position."
Now this is just silly (I toy with stronger words: “stupid” even suggests itself, as does “desperate”). Just because I don't know how God created the human body, this is where you leap?
It shows how much you let what you want to be true influence how you read evidence. It would be easier, wouldn't it, and far more convenient for my concerns to be explained and waved away because I'm a secret Darwinist, trying to hide the truth.
But that's false. I really don't have an opinion. I believe everything in the BYU Packet on evolution, but this doesn't tell me exactly how God went about creating our mortal bodies. God has not revealed it to me. I am not going to commit myself on something about which I am not reasonably confident, especially if it causes others to stumble.
If I was asked to “place my bets,” I would guess that God placed embodied spiritual children into the midst of an on-going physical world—an act that would leave little or no scientific trace at all. But there are other scenarios possible. And, that doesn't help me solve the question of what method(s) God used to create the bodies into which he placed the spirits of his children. The Improvement Era pointed this out more than a century ago:
[A] Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; [B] whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; [C] whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. - "Priesthood Quorums’ Table," Improvement Era 13 no. 4 (April 1910): 570. [Joseph F. Smith as president of the Church and Edward H. Anderson were editors of the magazine at the time. The editorial was unsigned.]
So, I would tend to opt for [B] if pressed, but I just don't know, and that decision is more of a “gut reaction” than anything reasoned or spiritual. I don't think it matters much, since we end up in the same place regardless—Adam as the first man, an embodied spirit child of God, created (however) in the Father's image. But, “I don't know.”
But, I could understand if someone opted for [A] or [C] (either one of which might imply some type of evolutionary involvement, but there are other non-evolution scenarios too) and wouldn't conclude they'd thrown in with the atheists and chucked the temple, prophets, and scripture.
If you know how God created man's body, great. But, I'm unlikely to take your word for it, partly because you have not shown yourself to be very trustworthy. Why?
What you say does not match what you do.
I'm going to speak frankly here. I do not wish to be unkind, but I also do not wish to be misunderstood. I will err on the side of clarity, as is my wont.
This points out one of the two big problems that makes it hard for people to take your theory seriously. That problem is this: your words do not match your actions. What you say does not match what you do.
You are complaining about my review because I use “sarcasm”. Let's look at your own behavior toward those with whom you disagree:
1. Your DVD and presentation included a section in which you accused John L. Sorenson, Matthew Roper, and Jeff Lindsay of “dismissing Joseph Smith.” You used a quote by President Hinckley to make it appear as if he was rebuking them for doing so, saying that such people are guilty of “disdaining him through whom, as a servant of the Lord, came the framework of all the church is, all that it teaches and all that is stands for. They would pluck the fruit from the tree while cutting off the root from which it grows.” [read the article here]
FAIR discussed this point at length with you during our first telephone conference call. You refused to admit that your use of Pres. Hinckley's quote was inappropriate. I read you the quote in context, and you excused yourself by saying that you couldn't very well quote “the whole article,” which I thought then and think now is ridiculous. You refused to make any changes.
So, we published the link above. You then decided that you perhaps had made an error. You placed a sticker on the DVD that read: “"Correction Notice: A quote from President Hinckley used in the presentation is used incorrectly and will be removed from the next version of the DVD. It was incorrectly understood that the Prophet was speaking of all people who dismiss Joseph Smith, including LDS scholars; however it has been brought to my attention that President Hinckley spoke specifically of non-members and did not specifically mention scholars. As stated in the presentation, if there are mistakes, they will be corrected."
Now, this seems a bit of a weasel-worded retraction (and it isn't entirely clear to me if you mean you were wrong to apply it to Sorenson, Roper, and Lindsay), but let's give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that's what you meant.
Did you ever apologize to Sorenson, Roper, and Lindsay for making these false statements about them? Did you publicly retract what you said so publicly about them? I guarantee they knew you said it, and knew you said it about them.
You claimed “This is the kind of stuff that the anti-Mormons just love. They love to see our LDS scholars dismissing Joseph Smith because they know, they can see these things that Joseph Smith has written and they're not being followed by the scholarly community of the church, unfortunately.” (Meldrum, DNA Evidence, "Joseph Smith," sec. 3) Is this fair or honest of you toward them? Seems a lot worse than sarcasm or irony.
2. When FAIR published its review of your DVD, you said to FAIR members that “You are not protecting Joseph Smith's revelatory words, but ignoring them. . . . The truth will prevail.” So, we get charged with ignoring revelations from God through Joseph Smith—revelations that only you recognize. [See here.] This merely reinforced our concern about your tendency to insist that you know about this revelation that has never been given to the Church, or recognized by presiding authorities. Such behavior did nothing to help convince us we were mistaken—in fact, it confirmed our fears yet again.
3. When I cited Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, on how scientists should be utterly honest and bend over backward to be skeptical of their own conclusions, you accused me of being in league with atheists: “take the scriptures any day over a devout atheist when looking for truth. Greg Smith would do well to do the same, but it is his decision. He has already cast his lot with the atheists in this matter” (Rod Meldrum, e-mail to Scott Gordon, 30 July 2008). Again, this is (pardon the terms) stupid and desperate looking. I wasn't quoting Feynman on whether God existed; I was showing that a famous scientist (even an atheist!) understands that honesty and self-criticism is essential. [See here.] You should at least be up to his standards, shouldn't you? Some of the scientists you quote in your presentation are probably atheists—you insist there's an atheist conspiracy among them after all. So, does that mean you've thrown in with them because you quote their work? Silly.
4. You accused BYU of teaching an old earth and standard evolutionary theory only for “accreditation.” Who do you think has the final word on what is taught at BYU? It's the board of trustees, which includes members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. [See here.] So, do you really want to appear to claim that they are doing such a thing for such crass motives? If they aren't to blame, then who is? Are they so out of the loop or so powerless at BYU that they can't change this? Again, this does nothing to convince us that our fears about your attitude toward those called to lead the Saints were groundless. You're claiming a revelation to Joseph they don't know about, getting signs from God about it, telling people about your signs to get them to support your efforts, and now faulting the First Presidency and Twelve for what goes on at the Church's flagship university? Doesn't look good, you must agree. You can claim you sustain the prophets, but acts speak louder than words. What you do doesn't match what you say.
5. You claim in your book that Latter-day Saints who teach standard evolutionary theory are doing so because of the need for money and professional prestige: "[For] many faithful LDS scholars and scientists . . . to get tenure and funding they must also 'toe the line' and 'not rock the evolution boat' that continues to take our children farther and farther from the safe harbor of the Lord and the scriptures" (p. 120). So Latter-day Saint scientists supposedly risk the souls of Latter-day Saint children for worldly advancement and money? Really? Yet, if BYU is requiring this to be taught, then even those there would not be doing their jobs if they didn't do evolutionary research and teach it. [See here.]
So, to be very candid, you have created quite a problem for yourself.
Does Rod Want Help Improving the Work?
I am more than willing to improve my theory
Rod, I wished I believed that. I really, really do.
When we first talked on the phone, frustrated with your unwillingness to admit that you might be taking Pres. Hinckley out of context, I finally pointed out to you that you had quoted a certain volume as saying there were 60 million buffalo, when in fact the book says less than 30. I hoped to see that you were at least open to the fact that you might need to make some corrections—and here was something that was not up for debate. When you asked me how I could be so sure, I told you, “Because I can read.” Remember?
I had the book itself right in front of me, open to the very page you cited. You insisted that the book did not say this, and then finally said, “Well, 60 million or 30 million, I don't think it makes that much difference.”
Again, these are not the words or attitude of someone who really wants help or correction. A 100% error is a big deal in science or history. The correct answer is, “I'll check that and fix it if you're right. Thanks for catching it.”
That was the moment, quite frankly, when I began to doubt that you sincerely wanted help improving your presentation of your ideas.
But, when you issued your retraction about Pres. Hinckley after our first article appeared, I honestly believed you might want some.
FAIR Offers You Help Again
As you know, FAIR offered to let you see its research before publishing further. You jumped at the chance and were very, very grateful. I can produce the e-mails if necessary.
We offered you a date by which you were to respond to us. You said the date was too soon.
We gave you an extension, to which you agreed, very gladly and with much gratitude.
We sent you the material. You were to tell us what you agreed with (and what you would change as a result). You were also to tell us what you disagreed with, and why.
You did not keep your end of the bargain. You sent nothing. We would have given you more time if you had made any progress. But, you sent nothing.
You made not one reply to anything we sent you. After the date you had agreed to, you then accused us of not supporting Joseph's revelation because we wouldn't hold off publishing.
This doesn't look like someone who wanted help, or was going to keep their word or abide by a legal agreement. What you say does not match what you do.
Since then, many people have spent literally hours with you on the phone: Bob White, John Lynch, Scott Gordon, and Lou Midgley. These are not the acts of people with no willingness to help you, or hear your side of it.
The Second Problem
No one is perfect and has 100% of the truth. Like I said, I am more than open to changing my position if I am shown to be wrong as long as they align with the scriptures and the prophets. But I think you will only be happy if I give up my theory altogether.
That's probably true, because this is the second problem with your theory. You have the DNA science wrong. Not just a little wrong—very, very wrong. That aspect of things simply has to go—it doesn't work.
You, in your turn, seem unwilling to consider that much of the foundation of your theory is flawed. So, you can't bear criticism of that foundation, because if you acknowledge its accuracy, even in part, your whole edifice crumbles. So, you have to resort to giving me some dark motive and Darwinian agenda, because then you don't have to deal with the criticism itself.
But, as I discuss below, my concerns with your theory could be allayed without me agreeing with you.
You need to realize that just because evidence doesn't match with what you think is “consistent with the scriptures and the prophets,” this gives you no license to twist it or manipulate it into saying something that it does not say and that its authors never intended.
Sometimes the best you can say is, “I can't account for that information in my theory; I'll have to await further information or perspective.” Science is provisional, and you have to be able to handle ambiguity and be patient.
Ugo Perego spent a lot of time with you explaining many of the same things I laid out in my review. Dr. Perego is probably in a better position than virtually anyone on the planet to evaluate the scientific case—he's a believer in the Book of Mormon, has a PhD in genetics, and did his dissertation on the genetics of Amerindians. You should listen to him if you don't listen to me.
In actuality, the only help that was received was when you posted your attack article before we even had an opportunity to speak about any changes that we could possibly make.
Rod, this just isn't true. I can prove it from the emails.
The first article we posted was because you refused to admit that you were misapplying the Prophet and condemning three faithful members (and others of the “LDS scholarly community”) of the Church as dismissing and disparaging Joseph Smith. So, we posted our first article.
You then decided we were right about Pres Hinckley. Almost makes it seem like publishing was a good idea, because it produced the one retraction you've made in the whole affair!
We then gave you another chance, to which you agreed readily. We held off. We gave you all our material. We waited. But, you sent us nothing. There was nothing to discuss, because you never sent anything. At all. Ever. Despite promising to do so and entering into a legal contract to that effect. After the deadline, you then wrote in and told us we weren't supporting Joseph's revelation about Book of Mormon location.
That's the revelation that you claim he had, but which the Church has never recognized, remember.
What you say does not match what you do.
You also insisted you didn't want my help at all, because I was too “biased.” We respected that, and it's written into the email agreements, though ironically I was the one best suited to be helpful, because I had read the most of your material, and probably had the best grasp of the DNA issues from the relevant papers. But, if you'd sent anything to us as you promised, I could have still given feedback without you having to deal with me. :-)
We spoke on the telephone one time and you and other members of FAIR took turns taking shots at me.
No one took shots at you, Rod. We criticized your work. Now, we can get attached to our work, but it is not us. No one said, “Rod, you're a bad person,” or “Rod, you need to repent.” We said, “This is an error,” and “This is taken out of context.” And you insisted it wasn't an error, and it wasn't out of context. We couldn't make you do anything. All we could do is appeal to your reason and sense of fairness. We failed. We pointed out our concerns, you rejected them, and so we published one article.
That got your attention. And, suddenly, you decided that maybe we had been right after all about the President Hinckley quotes.
And, then we gave you all our research, and you broke your word. And then attacked us afterward as rejecting Joseph's revelation.
Doesn't really give me confidence in your intentions. Looks bad, doesn't it?
It seemed like I was being interrogated not being helped. Perhaps you had good intentions but that is how it seemed to me. On top of that, you began attacking me on the blog which only made things worse.
Again, you have not been attacked. Your ideas and acts have been critiqued. Big difference. And, you were given the chance to look at our material. But, as far as we knew, you didn't find one thing you agreed with and would change, or one thing you disagreed with. Nothing came back to us.
What would you think in those circumstances?
I didn't see any change or improvement in your argument about DNA between your first video and the book I reviewed. The book kept all the errors of the video, and merely added to them.
I have only asked that you take down the articles on your website that attack me or we are going to publish articles that you will not like which will only cause FAIR to spend lots of time on responding to. This is not a threat, but a suggestion.
I don't think you've ever asked us anything nicely.
But, we gave you a chance to see our material before we published, and correct things that you agreed were in error. Are you willing to grant us the same privilege? I mean that seriously.
As it stands, we're unlikely to remove our reviews simply because you dislike them or disagree with them, any more than I expect you to burn your videos and books because I disagree with them. I'm quite content for both to exist; this is why I write reviews, so people make up their own minds with all the information available.
Why would I not be happy with having you respond? If (3 years after promising to do so) you are finally going to reply to the substance of the concerns, I would welcome it.
On the other hand, if your recent emails to Stan Barker are any evidence, then you don't have more information to share, just more attempts to poison the well by attacking the messengers via conspiracy theories. (“Secret Gadianton combinations” was a nice, if over the top, touch in your latest! As was the claim that those who wouldn't tell you what you wanted to know would have an uncomfortable interview with Jesus.)
You have libeled me in your recent emails to Stan. You have sent these claims to an LDS newspaper reporter, who publishes in a newspaper owned by the Church. And then you turn around and complain about “anti-Meldrum” web pages? Incredible.
I don't know of any such webpages, I only know pages reviewing what you have said and written. If you have a specific complaint, I'd be happy to reply to, correct, or justify any pages over which I have any influence. I'm not the internet police, though.
A Double Standard?
This all looks kind of hypocritical, Rod. And, in your book, you claim that no one should do what you have just done (and keep doing) to LDS scholars and members:
• "No one should condemn nor defend a scholar in taking a position that may not seem to be in accordance with the gospel" (p. 150)
Now, this looks like an effort to have it both ways. You don't want anyone to criticize your work and sayings, but you seem to be free to criticize people's character and motives and faithfulness to the church and prophets simply because you don't agree with their opinions.
That is pernicious.
Since you suspect my opinion doesn't match yours (when in fact all I've said is, “I don't know,”) you're attacking me as a tool of atheists. Really? This is just silly. And stupid. And desperate. And, you know it's wrong, because your book says so. But, you're doing it anyway.
In your book, you also claim that you “respect” the beliefs of those who have different ideas about the creation than you do:
• There are faithful members of the Church that have a deep belief in evolution and have been able to reconcile their beliefs. . . . Please know that your beliefs are respected (p. 149).
Sounds nice, right?
But, the book goes on to show what kind of “respect” you really have. [See my review here.]
• "there are many LDS educators and scientists actually supporting and defending the evolution boat rather than standing for truths in the scriptures and prophets." You then admonish, "Remember the scriptures warn us about putting one's trust in the 'arm of flesh'" (p. 120)
And, I get a dose of the kind of “respect” you are talking about, since even a hint of a suspicion that I don't exactly share your views (because you claim to know, and I only claim to not know and not think it a terribly urgent religious question) gets me labeled as one who aids and abets atheists, rejects the temple, rejects the prophets, and rejects the scriptures.
What you say does not match what you do.
Your talk about respect and not condemning people for such ideas looks self-serving. Either you're trying to get the benefits of “tolerance” for yourself without extending it to others, and/or you are cynically trying to say the “right thing” so you can say, “Look, what I said here!” and then do whatever you want elsewhere. Either motive (or both) does not impress me.
I don’t think it will change any minds but at least people will see both sides of the issue.
Again, if you have evidence, present it.
But, I will make a prediction. Your recent emails to Stan make it sound like you've decided to “unmask” me as some type of “closet evolutionist” and NAMI as run by some dark cabal with shadowy motives, conspiring, etc. So, it looks very much like you're going to try to make this all about people being biased against you, etc. After all, that has been your only response so far. [See here and here and here and here in the review for more efforts from you on the same line.]
If you had better arguments to make, I'd have expected the DNA stuff to improve from video to book. It didn't.
In the end, though, this sort of charge is not only absurd, but it's also irrelevant. Even if I was an atheist, died-in-the-wool sociobiological Darwinist like Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins (both of whom I heartily dislike as thinkers), what I think about those matters is utterly irrelevant to whether I am accurately portraying the scientific DNA evidence.
So, do we get to see what your concerns are, as you got to see ours?
You really need to just stop spinning conspiracy theories. It is 100% false that:
1) FAIR or NAMI cares about defending a Mesoamerican model. This is just nonsense. I think I've been involved in virtually every discussion about your work, and never has this point come up. No one cares. We noticed your model well before the areas that gave us concern came to our attention, and everyone said, “Meh, another poorly thought out Great Lakes model. Nothing to see here.” We don't care, and have never cared.
2) I or anyone else cares about defending Darwinism or organic evolution of any stripe. Again, I've been part of virtually every discussion, and no one cares. At all.
3) I or anyone at NAMI or FAIR makes any money off of our work, or geographical theories, or even evolutionary biology. There is no financial motivation at work here that I am aware of, and certainly none that is threatened by you or your ideas or products.
So, you need to quit making these claims. They are false, and that has been explained to you many, many times.
The things that we are concerned about are (in my opinion):
1) bad science being used to supposedly “shore up” the Church – though alone this would have probably merited only a short review; such things are a dime a dozen sometimes
2) your claim that Joseph knew Book of Mormon geography by revelation – claims to revelation that the Church authorities do not recognize are a serious matter
3) your email about sign seeking, revelation, and the website testimonials from your audience that sing the same tune which you have chosen to post [lots of detail here in my review];
4) your repeated attacks on members of the Church for their opinions (or what you think are their opinions), questioning their loyalty to the Church or the prophets or the scriptures simply because they differ from you on issues about which the Church has no official position (e.g., Book of Mormon geography, age of the earth, biology, whether Joseph had a revelation about BoM geography, etc.)
You have refused to believe that these are our true motivations, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that they are my only concerns, and I'm virtually certain that they are the only concerns that have motivated those with FAIR and NAMI with whom I have had anything to do. If they have other motives, they hide them very well in your case AND all the other issues we talk and write about.
As you said, I'm unlikely to ever accept your theory—unless you have fabulous new evidence, I think it has too many problems. But, if your theory didn't have the problems of #2-4, I wouldn't care the least bit about it one way or the other. I only spend my time thinking and writing about Church topics that I think matter, and I don't think Mesoamerica or evolutionary biology matter much (save as they become stumbling blocks one way or the other to take people out of the Church and away from their covenants).
This has never been about your theory per se. No one cares about one more out of several dozen Book of Mormon geography theories. It has been about what you have done and said in your propagation of your theory.
Someone could have come up with the exact same theory, and we'd have paid it no mind whatever if #2, #3, and #4 above hadn't been in play. Honest.
You’re right, people do review books, but what you say next is wrong. The Book of Mormon has LOTS of bad reviews, so using that logic then we should assume it is a false book, correct?
That's not the logic. The logic is “reviews of books happen and are to be expected; they don't constitute an attack on the author.” You said you wanted a discussion of the scholarly evidence. This is how it is done. And, my tone was mild by the standards of the genre, and compared to what you have repeatedly said and written. I don't think you have cause for complaint.
But, as I said, it it never my intent to give offense (aside from the inevitable ruffling one gets when told one is wrong) or be uncivil.
No way. Occasionally someone gives a negative review because he is biased. Sometimes a bad review is just because it was written by a bad reviewer.
Indeed. But, establishing that requires the presentation of evidence and analysis, and responding to the actual data and arguments made by the reviewer—and not fishing via email to try to paint him as a “closet evolutionist” so you can claim he doesn't believe the prophets, temple, or scriptures. Or mind reading about motivations.
As I said, that is libelous, and stupid, and looks desperate. I'll be delighted to be surprised if you avoid such tactics in future. I recommend such a course, as my review makes clear.
I don’t plan on contacting you again unless I absolutely have to and will make sure to keep it short.
I remain (as I always have been) willing to answer questions about the substance of my criticism of your theory in my review—I was willing 3 years ago when we sent you everything.
As you can understand, I am not inclined, however, to play into your conspiracy theories of me as fifth-column atheist Darwinist Mesoamerican devotee seeking to suppress or ignore Joseph's revelations and the genetic evidence that supports the claim that the Bible and Book of Mormon true. :-)
I look forward to your decision as to whether we deserve the same consideration we gave you regarding the reply you don't think we're going to like.