For what it’s worth, here are the opening remarks that I prepared and (more or less) delivered at the beginning of today’s Interpreter Foundation conference on science and Mormonism:
First of all, please silence all mobile devices. And that means you. And me. Several years ago, I was speaking to a largish audience in North Carolina when somebody’s cell phone erupted loudly. And it went on and on. I began to wonder what was wrong with the idiot. Why didn’t he shut it off? And then I realized that it was mine.
And please recall, too, that we’ll be recording the proceedings today, and streaming them. So it might be good, should you feel the urge to shout “Huzzah!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Speak it, Brother!” if you went out into the lobby for that.
On behalf of The Interpreter Foundation, I would like to welcome you to this, our first freestanding and independently initiated conference. We do not expect it to be our last.
I would also like to thank the conference organizing committee—David Bailey, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, John S. Lewis, Gregory L. Smith, and Michael R. Stark. I regret that Drs. Lewis and Smith cannot be with us here today. Fortunately, though, if the technology doesn’t let us down, Dr. Lewis will be able to participate from New Zealand.
I’m grateful to all those who have accepted our invitation to participate, and for the time they’ve put into preparing their presentations.
As with the other activities of The Interpreter Foundation, and as with the Foundation itself, I continue to be impressed and even moved by the well-nigh miraculous way that this effort has come to fruition. (I would especially like to thank my friend and colleague Professor William Hamblin for his early work in helping to establish the Foundation.) We’re still operating pretty much on a shoestring budget, with no institutional support, on the basis (almost entirely) of volunteer labor and expertise. I’m amazed by what has been accomplished so far—and there are more and even bigger things still on the horizon.
- We greatly appreciate any donations that can be given to help cover our conference costs, and to further the work of The Interpreter Foundation. (This facility isn’t free.) Donations can be given at the registration desk by cash, check, or credit and debit cards. We thank you for any amount you can give to help us continue sponsoring events such as this, in addition to the many other activities of the foundation, including the journal and future book publications currently in process. The book In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, by Jeffrey Bradshaw and David Larsen, is nearing publication. The proceedings of last year’s symposium on “The Temple on Mount Zion” are slowly moving toward completion, and we hope to publish the papers from today’s gathering, as well. And there’s more to come, some of it already underway but not yet announced.
- Automatic monthly donations can now be set up from our Donations page on our website using PayPal. You can simply enter how much you want to donate each month, and the system will take care of the rest.
- We express sincere thanks for the contributions from LDSAgents.com and FairMormon, and for their continued support of Interpreter.
- We are grateful, as well, to Tom Pittman and Bryce Haymond for their efforts to make this conference visible, both here and, by streaming video, elsewhere. And to all those who have helped or will help with registration, collecting and sorting questions, and so forth. I can’t name them all, because help continues to roll in, and I don’t want to omit anybody. So, please, express your gratitude to them. It’s the only pay they’ll get.
- Please follow us online. You can “like” our page on Facebook, “follow” us on Twitter and Google Plus, “subscribe” to our YouTube channel, sign up for email updates, subscribe to our audio podcast in iTunes, and more—all from the top right-hand corner of our website, MormonInterpreter.com. This will allow you to receive all the latest news and updates from Interpreter, such as announcements of future conferences like this one. (At least two such conferences are under discussion.) We even have an Android app that you can download to your phone or tablet (thanks to FairMormon), and we hope to soon have an iPhone/iPad app.
- We offer an annual print subscription to our journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, as well. It costs $50 annually, and covers our cost of printing and shipping only, without markup or royalty. (We do not raise any funds from journal sales.) Subscribers will receive priority shipment of the print edition of each journal volume before it’s available to the general public for purchase on Amazon.com, and, frankly, it just plain spares you the hassle of having to remember to order a copy each time we complete a volume. (Which is roughly every two months.) You can sign up for the annual print subscription at MormonInterpreter.com. (Do you notice how I keep mentioning that address? I picked the technique up from a particular television commercial.)
- We are pleased to announce that we have now finished seven volumes of the journal Interpreter to date, publishing at least one new paper or review every Friday for the past 67 weeks since the journal’s announcement on August 3, 2012. (Volume 7 was completed just yesterday, with an introduction that contains a transcript of very prophetic 1991 remarks from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, previously unpublished; it will be available soon in print and digital formats.) These seven volumes represent over 1700 pages of scholarship. For those interested in purchasing print editions of past volumes of Interpreter, they are all available on Amazon.com for a minimal price (about $5 per copy), without markup or royalty. We also have e-book editions of each of our volumes available, many for free, in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats, and in popular e-book stores such as Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, Apple’s iBookstore, and Google Play or Google Books. Of course, a digital version of our publications is also available for free to read on our website, MormonInterpreter.com. (On behalf of everybody connected with Interpreter, I need to thank Bryce Haymond for his absolutely indispensable help with these multiple publication platforms. From the start, Interpreter was conceived as a very twenty-first-century enterprise, and much of this is due to Bryce.)
- We have five complete sets of Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Studies—complete through volume six, that is—here at the conference, and would very much like to sell them at cost, as complete sets. Which, being interpreted, means that I really don’t want to have to carry them home.
- Some may not know that we have other resources available in addition to the journal. These include fifty filmed scripture roundtables covering most of the 2013 Gospel Doctrine curriculum. Under the able leadership of Andrew Smith, this effort will soon resume with a focus on the 2014 curriculum. Recently, too, we did a special 90-minute roundtable discussion on the topic of polygamy and plural marriage with experts on the historical data (Brian Hales, Greg Smith, and Craig Foster, moderated by Andrew Smith). We likewise have a blog covering current events, thoughts, news, and discussions, including many posts by Brant Gardner on the Book of Mormon, and others. We also feature a section of teacher resources, with many useful items provided by another of our board members, Taylor Halverson (who, holding a doctorate in Instructional Systems Technology as well as a doctorate in Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity, is uniquely qualified to help Interpreter in its mission of making scholarship on the scriptures and related matters accessible to interested non-specialists as well as to professional academics.) These can all be found on our website at MormonInterpreter.com.
- I should perhaps also offer an update regarding The Interpreter Foundation’s status with our friends at the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS). We applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in the autumn of 2012. The application form says that the process requires roughly ninety (90) days. Several months ago, I checked the IRS webpage, and it announced that they were then processing applications from twelve months before. (So much for ninety days!) This led me to expect that we might get approval by now. But I checked again two days ago, and they are currently processing applications from May 2012—which means that they have now fallen fully eighteen months behind. Needless to say, I’m frustrated. But The Interpreter Foundation is fortunate. For one thing, we didn’t include the words Patriot, Constitution, or Tea Party in our application. More importantly, thanks to the generosity of many of you here, we can weather this. We have every expectation that, eventually, when the IRS gets around to reviewing our application, it will be approved. And we’re told that, once it’s approved, tax-exemption will apply retroactively to all donations made from the date of our application. Does that leave us and some of you somewhat in limbo? Yes. But there seems no way around it. Do we still need to raise funds? Yes we do. We have big dreams. And we know how to make them real.
I’m personally delighted that Interpreter is able to sponsor this particular conference. In fact, I insisted that I wanted to be on the program, if only for a few minutes. Why? I’ve found myself described at various places on the web, repeatedly, as a young-earth creationist who hates and fears science, regarding it as demonic.
However, so far as I can recall, I’ve never been a young-earth creationist. Ever. I arrived BYU as a mathematics major, with an interest in astronomy and cosmology. Admittedly, I soon went over to the dark side, pursuing degrees in Greek, philosophy, and, ultimately, Near Eastern languages, but my dissertation focused on an eleventh-century Arab Neoplatonist cosmology, so the interest never altogether faded, and I still take particular delight in roadside geology and in the history of astronomy and cosmology.
Thus, I’m thrilled at the very idea of this conference, excited for the day ahead—and, in the interest of my own vindication, for the public record, I want it known that I believe in and value science.
Again, we’re delighted at your attendance here, and we’re excited to present this conference to you. We hope that today’s papers and discussions strengthen faith, deepen understanding, and stimulate new thoughts.