Q&A: Questions and Answers

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    Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine

    “Is there any reference in scripture or other sources of information that tells where Hagoth and his ships, referred to in Alma 63, went?”

    Answer/Brother Dale C. LeCheminant , Ph.D.

    That is a very interesting question. The passage that gives rise to the question is in the last chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon, where three years in the period of the judges are briefly characterized in sparse descriptions of a few events and people. And the story of Hagoth is one of these. In the 37th year of the reign of the judges, a northward movement of some Book of Mormon people began. Part of this migration was that of some sea-traveling people under the direction of Hagoth, apparently an adventuresome, gifted craftsman, described as “an exceedingly curious man,” who skillfully built a large ship, equipped it, and sent it with many people “into the west sea” on a “course northward.” After this ship returned the next year, Hagoth “built other ships,” perhaps because of the favorable report of those who had returned, and many more emigrants sailed northward with him and were never heard of again. Presumably no report of their destination was known by the writer of this account, for he simply remarks of the ship’s course “and whither she did go we know not.” Now that is the concise but entire scriptural account of the curious Hagoth, master shipbuilder.

    As a thoughtful reader—such as the one to whom this question occurred—lingers over this passage, he comes to wonder upon the fate of this expedition, to become curious about Hagoth as perhaps Hagoth himself was about what lay northward in the sea. I see other cryptic accounts in the Book of Mormon that cause the same curiosity: When Alma goes off and is not heard of again, we wonder what happened to him. (See Alma 45:18.) And when Nephi leaves his people never to be seen again, we ponder his disappearance. (See 3 Ne. 1:3.) Wonderment is a great and natural human response to the unknown. It drives us to seek answers! Alas though, in the case of musing over Hagoth’s destiny, our curiosity cannot be satisfied with facts. The scripture is silent and other sources are of slight help.

    Another human inclination, often companion to wonderment, especially when wonderment cannot be satisfied with information, is that of speculation—an effort to give some resolution to difficult questions by resorting to the possible or probable. This is the kind of “putting two and two together” approach used by our serious researching students of the Book of Mormon, who really are in the same position as we curious, serious readers. Since they have little more to rely on than we do, they too resort to speculation. Some of these publishing scholars consider the possibility that many of the seafaring expeditionaries such as Hagoth’s group reached the region we now call the United States of America, and others reached the Polynesian islands. (See Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, [Deseret Book Co., 1972], p. 369.) But these writers are appropriately guarded in reporting their surmise about the fate of Hagoth and his company and righty qualify their theory with such terms as probable, possibility, matter of conjecture, and tradition. And this all to their scholarly credit, for the theories are still speculation as far as scientists are concerned and unsettled as far as the prophets are concerned, since they have not seen fit to comment on the matter. Several have stated that the Polynesians are descendants of Lehi, but we have no comments from them on the fate of Hagoth. So we curious readers are left to our human wonderment in considering just what did happen to that adventurous, talented, and curious Hagoth with his brave northward-bound Nephites. Some day, perhaps, we shall know their story. For now we may rest assured in the thought that it isn’t a matter of great moment to settle such issues that arise because of the sketchiness of some passages of the scripture, tempting as it might be to do otherwise.

    Instructor, Institute of Religion University of Utah

    “Are there any modern-day, scientific discoveries that prove the existence of a super-intelligent Creator of the universe?”

    Answer/Brother Owen C. Bennion

    I have given much thought to your request for some scientific discoveries that might substantiate the existence of a super-intelligent Creator of the universe. May I begin by saying that in studying science, I have found a simple mathematical unity in the laws of nature. For example, the speed of light seems to crop up in many of the equations that are used to express these laws. We use the symbol c to represent the speed of light: c = 3 x 1010 cm/sec. To list just a few cases where it crops up: e = mc2 is the equation given us by Einstein expressing the relationship between energy and mass; e = hc/(yyy) is the equation given us by Plank expressing the relationship between the energy of a photon and its wavelength,(yyy) m = m0/(1-v2/c2)1/2 is Einstein’s equation that shows how the mass of a particle increases as its velocity approaches the velocity of light. We call c a universal constant because it shows up so often. This seems to be a part of the fabric of the universe—a sort of witness of intelligence in the universe.

    Although there have been many exciting scientific discoveries in recent years, I hesitate to call them proofs of the existence of God. To name a few, we now believe in subatomic particles, such as electrons and quarks, so tiny that we now consider protons and neutrons as composite particles; we think there are tiny bodies in space so massive that light cannot escape their gravity, which we call black holes; we are quite sure that continents drift over the mantle of the earth and that ocean crust is being created and destroyed at the ridges and trenches all due to tectonic processes. Yet as exciting as these things may be, I am impressed that our wisdom is as foolishness compared to the omniscience of God. Through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, the Lord has said, “In that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—

    “Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose … thereof.” (D&C 101:32–33.)

    And so, my friend, I have mixed feelings when you ask me to tell you of scientific discoveries that substantiate the existence of God. I feel sort of like the poet who is asked to write poetry using ratios instead of metaphoric expressions. The apostle Paul said:

    “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

    “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

    “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God:

    “… for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:9–11, 14.)

    Science is not bent on proving or disproving the existence of God, neither can it. I read Paul to mean that to find and understand God, we must overcome the natural man and yield ourselves to the teaching influence of the Spirit of God. Only when we are in the Spirit can we know God.

    I sincerely believe that the greatest thing I can give you is my own testimony. I personally know that my Father in Heaven lives. He is not dead. He is near us. He knows us as his own children, and above all, he loves us with a great love that is beyond our understanding.

    Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20.) Although this expression is figurative, I know that Jesus will keep the spiritual meaning of the promise. He will communicate with us, and we can come to know him as if he had dined with us. A personal experience may tell you how this can happen.

    About a year ago, I was driving home from an extended backpacking trip with my 11-year-old son. As we traveled along in silent thought, he startled me with a question I was not quite prepared for: “Dad, how do you think it would be if I went on a mission for the Church to Canada?” His older brother and I had both been on LDS missions to Canada, and so this was not what startled me. Instead, I was wondering how God could know my little son well enough among all the millions of children on earth to fashion a special mission just for him. As I pondered this notion while driving along the road, something warm and wonderful, wonderful beyond description, passed through me. I know it was the Spirit of God. The still, small voice had whispered to me: “I know you and your son better than you know yourselves. I love you with a great love.”

    This is only one of the many ways that I have come, through the Spirit, to know of the reality of God. He is near us and wants us to know him. The trouble is that we are too far from him. But if we will draw near to him in faith and repentance, he will draw near to us. His Spirit will teach us of him. I do not think there is another way—not through science or any other way except as he has appointed.

    Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Geology in Indian Education Brigham Young University

    “At a program the other night a hypnotist called for volunteers from the audience. As a member of the Church, how should I respond to such invitations?”

    Answer/Brother Joe J. Christensen

    I have been asked similar questions on several occasions by high school and college students. My personal feeling and reaction is negative. I do not feel good about the idea of being hypnotized for entertainment purposes, and frankly, I would really have to be convinced of the need even in those few cases where there may be some value from a medical standpoint. I have some very strong feelings about the great importance of free will and agency, and of the need, insofar as possible, for a person always to be consciously in control of his thoughts and actions. There is an unusual power inherent in our conscious and subconscious minds. We really know very little about the capacity of the human brain. I do not feel it is wise to use what little we know about the power of suggestion and hypnosis for entertainment purposes. Hypnosis is a powerful force and in my opinion should be employed only by the best-trained and most ethical professionals for very important reasons, such as making possible surgery and other medical and dental procedures without pain in those few cases where a patient is allergic to ordinary anesthetics.

    Hypnosis is of very ancient origin and has played a part in witchcraft, magic, and tribal medicine for centuries. A Dr. Franz Mesmer in Vienna began the first scientific study of how hypnosis could be used in treating patients in medical practice way back in the 1700s. You may have heard of the word mesmerism, which gets its name from him; and though many of Dr. Mesmer’s theories of “animal magnetism” were later discredited, some medical doctors and others have continued to hold interest in the phenomena associated with it.

    I thought it interesting to learn that Dr. James Braid in the middle 1800s coined the word hypnotism and performed many scientific experiments with it. Over the years interest has continued to grow in its medical use, and in the 1950s the American and British Medical Associates approved the medical use of hypnosis and suggested that untrained individuals should avoid using it.

    You may be interested in the counsel published by the leaders of the Church in a Priesthood Bulletin article not long ago:

    “Reports have been received of unfortunate results to persons engaging in group hypnosis demonstrations or in popular mind control courses of study. There are reports that some Church leaders have arranged hypnosis demonstrations as a means of entertainment. Leaders should advise members of the Church against participating in such activities. Certainly, they should not be sponsored or encouraged by leaders of the Church as has been reported.”

    I believe that is sound counsel, and we would be wise to follow it.

    President of the Mission Training Center Provo, Utah