Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Mormon Archaeologist Loses his Faith

Fascinating little essay by Lizzie Wade on Thomas Ferguson, a Mormon who explored southern Mexico's archaeological sites in the 1940s and 1950s, searching for proof of Mormon teaching about ancient civilizations in the Americas:
After years of studying maps, Mormon scripture, and Spanish chronicles, Ferguson had concluded that the Book of Mormon took place around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of Mexico. He had come to the jungles of Campeche, northeast of the isthmus, to find proof.

As the group's local guide hacked a path through the undergrowth with his machete, that proof seemed to materialize before Ferguson's eyes. "We have explored four days and have found eight pyramids and many lesser structures and there are more at every turn," he wrote of the ruins he and his companions found on the western shore of Laguna de TĂ©rminos. "Hundreds and possibly several thousand people must have lived here anciently. This site has never been explored before."

Ferguson, a lawyer by training, did go on to open an important new window on Mesoamerica's past. His quest eventually spurred expeditions that transformed Mesoamerican archaeology by unearthing traces of the region's earliest complex societies and exploring an unstudied area that turned out to be a crucial cultural crossroads. Even today, the institute he founded hums with research. But proof of Mormon beliefs eluded him. His mission led him further and further from his faith, eventually sapping him of religious conviction entirely. Ferguson placed his faith in the hands of science, not realizing they were the lion's jaws.
Ferguson and his New World Archaeological Foundation did turn up plenty of ancient cities, but no evidence that they were settled by Hebrews or Egyptians as the Book of Mormon says. He eventually realized that he could not find this evidence because it did not exist – because the Book of Mormon is fiction. As he wrote to a friend,
Right now I am inclined to think that all of those who claim to be ‘prophets’, including Moses, were without a means of communication with deity.
That's the thing about science. Sometimes it may tell you what you want to hear, but more often, in spiritual terms, it produces only howls from the void.

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