Moving forward in classical Islamic history:   By the time that the ninth century was well underway, however, the caliph’s office had grown much weaker. There were several rea­sons for this. First, the caliphs had begun to rely upon imported soldiery. The old military fire had gone out of the Arabians—those who had actually come from the Arabian Peninsula, or whose ancestors had done so. They were rich, comfortable, and had little enthusiasm for toilsome and risky adventures…. Read more

    Rough notes from a book in progress:   Orson Pratt, who knew Joseph very well from their first acquaintance to the Prophet’s death in 1844, described Joseph Smith’s educational level as follows: Cultivating the earth for livelihood was an occupation, in which he employed the most of his time.  His advantages for acquiring literary knowledge, were exceedingly small; hence, his education was limited to a slight acquaintance, with two or three of the common branches of learning.  He… Read more

    Every once in a while, I read a complaint by some critic of the Church or other about the odd and uniquely Mormon habit of using middle initials in the names of Church leaders — leaders like Heber J. Grant, David O. McKay, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, and Henry B. Eyring.   This complaint always reminds me of still other Mormon leaders, such as Ulysses… Read more

    There are two broad ways of viewing the Book of Mormon:  One holds it to be bogus and proposes some kind of naturalistic explanation for its existence.  The other accepts it to be what it claims to be and, thus, necessarily entails what can rather crudely be termed a “supernatural” explanation for it.   There are, in my judgment, good arguments against the first alternative and for the second.  (If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be a… Read more

    Every day, a bit more from one of my manuscripts:   But the emphasis of the ulama on law and on behavior came, in the eyes of some highly committed Muslims, to seem a mere con­centration on the externals, on the letter and not the spirit of Islam. They yearned for a more personal and warm relationship with God than plain obedience to a law code could possibly supply. Among these pious Muslims were the Sufis, the Islamic… Read more

    After attending the Vista California Stake conference yesterday, where we listened to (among others) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, we continued further inland on Highway 76 to Palomar Mountain, which rises to somewhat more than 6000 feet above sea level.   I haven’t visited the great Mount Palomar observatory since my parents took me there as a child, so this was something I’ve long wanted to do.   Owned and operated by… Read more

    I offer, below, some notes about suggestions that Joseph Smith had help in the composition of a fraudulent nineteenth-century Book of Mormon:   Although there have long been speculations about a helper or conspiracy of helpers, no primary historical source indicates that any other person assisted Joseph Smith in the composition of the Book of Mormon. Likewise, There are no primary sources which suggest that prior to the fall of 1827 Joseph Smith possessed metal plates, a Urim… Read more

    Proceeding with my manuscript on Islam for Mormons, including some further comments on the shari‘a :   With the dependence of the Abbasids on eastern or Persian support, and with physical movement in the direction of Iran, it is not surprising that the Abbasid caliph, surrounded by pomp, came eventually to be a model Sassanid-style king, very much in the style of the old Persian absolute monarchy. He was a benevolent despot, generally, but a despot nonetheless. And… Read more

    Some additional notes from Karl W. Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (New York: HarperOne, 2008):   Professor Giberson quotes a book by Michael Ruse, a philosopher who is emphatically not a religious believer but who answers Yes to the title of his own book, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?   If you are a Darwinian or a Christian or both, remember that we are mere humans and not God.  We are… Read more

    The eminent geneticist Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who directed the Human Genome Project, also wrote a foreword to Karl W. Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (New York: HarperOne, 2008).  Here are some passages from it:   Darwin’s theory of evolution has been overwhelmingly supported by evidence from a wide variety of sources.  Those include the increasingly detailed fossil record, but even more compelling evidence now comes from the study of genomes… Read more

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