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Mormon Scholars Testify: Brian D. Stubbs - "What I Know From Experience"
|Title||Mormon Scholars Testify: Brian D. Stubbs - "What I Know From Experience"|
|Publication Type||Web Article|
|Year of Publication||2011|
|Authors||Stubbs, Brian D.|
|Access Date||2 April 2018|
|Last Update Date||January 2011|
|Publisher||Mormon Scholars Testify|
|Keywords||Experiment; Language; Native Americans; Prayer; Testimony; Uto-Aztecan|
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Brian D. Stubbs
What I Know From Experience
Not claiming to be a model of Mormon mantra, I have, nonetheless, tried learning and doing God’s wisdom enough to feel His loving kindness, to see His tender mercies in my life, and to benefit from His two-by-four tutoring when I need growth, perspective, or attitude adjustment. For that is how one gets acquainted with God and His Son, the Messiah: by learning about them (in scripture) and then doing what one learns, which brings regular witnesses of their love for us and their involvement in our lives—if we live for it, and that is the key.
Still in recovery from being a math major before turning linguist, I periodically figure probabilities. When prayers are answered whose probabilities of happening by chance range from 1 in 2 to 1 in millions, and several such answers to prayer happen in succession, I multiply the fractions and feel depths of gratitude in the impossibility of all such happening by chance. Is that not comparable to the scientific method? The hypothesis—God lives, loves us, and answers prayers, or He does not—is a supremely important question, if not quest, of life. So why not do the experiments on His word? He invites us: “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing” (Malachi 3:10); “if any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17), et cetera. Do the experiments, abide in His will, then the witnesses follow, and after so many hundreds of evidences have been experienced, doubts vanish, one feels God’s love from time to time, one’s faith becomes unshakeable, and one’s heart is blessed and changed to a degree that there is no desire to do evil or to do life any other way than God’s way. Of course, many are not interested in God’s way; they assume that the fun and thrills are elsewhere, and after doing life contrary to God’s way, it sometimes becomes more comfortable to conclude that there is no God, grasping at straws of the not-yet-answered questions (like creation’s timeframe) as presumed evidence of His absence.
Of course, we know not all things and not all prayers are answered as we expect, for which we should be grateful. He protects us from ourselves at times, as we might pray our own destruction or lesser potential if all prayers were answered. But when 90% are answered, that aspect of life alone has me being as sure of God’s existence, love, and care for us as I am sure of anything I can see, touch, or feel. Then add to that many other witnesses and life experiences, and I must conclude that pursuing any other course than God’s pattern for blessings ever increasing upon me is foolishness.
Besides mathematical probabilities, witnesses of the spirit are sure witnesses directly from God that cannot be explained away. Skeptics may try to explain them as emotionally moving by-products of our thoughts, psyche, or something within us, but whoever says that has not experienced them. And whoever experiences them knows they come from outside of oneself, from God. Such experiences vary in strength. More often the still small voice speaks comfort and peace to our souls, but is still unmistakably from outside ourselves. However, once in a while, according to God’s will and timing and assessment of need and merit, a sweetness, joy, and love—feeling like a fire or burning within—is experienced that is impossible to produce oneself. Such experiences seem to me more miraculous than seeing an angel. Miracles are things not explainable by everyday experience. Seeing another person happens every day, and the mechanisms of light and eyes are understood, and, although not many see angels, the mechanism is at least understandable if an angel should appear to and speak to a person, because we do that to each other all the time. But God’s Spirit burning within us, filling with sweetness, love, and joy unspeakable, involves mechanisms not remotely understood by us mere mortals, though the experiences are as real as any, if not more real. Yet one cannot gain such witnesses from God flippantly. Only to those humbly and sincerely seeking to do good and to abide in His will does He, on occasion, send witnesses that He is pleased with our efforts. The greater our diligence in seeking Him and His ways, the more regular the witnesses. The better we get to know Him, from experience, as with mortal parents, the higher is the percent of our answered requests/prayers.
Besides probabilities in prayer and witnesses from Him to our spirits, the whole world and universe are filled with thousands of evidences of a Supreme Intelligence and unfathomable designer. Regardless which mortals do or do not want to come to Him, to glory, and to rewards presently incomprehensible, the evidence lies all about that He exists, and if He exists and knows all things, as His creations suggest He does, then reason suggests His understanding of life and how to do it is as great, or so much greater than ours that to ignore what He offers us of knowledge and understanding and guidance would make rejecting His offering as supremely stupid as He is supremely intelligent. Skeptics latch onto a handful of flimsy lines like ‘evolution and radio-active measurements of earth’s age prove the creation story false, and thus the Bible too, and thus all religious belief in God, as well.’ Whoever believes that may as well reject what every field of science knows, for in every field, scientists know that there are unexplainables not yet understood, ambiguities not yet clarified, and apparent contradictions to other parts of the science. Every language has ambiguities and unexplained exceptions to otherwise consistent rules and lexical histories. Relativity upended everyone’s security in Newtonian physics. And for scientists to assume that time and nature have always happened as they happen now is an assumption, and you know what they say about assumptions.
So in contrast to yet unanswered questions relevant to evolution and creation’s time line, what about the eye—a rotatable hollow sphere with the right-sized hole, perfectly placed at one end, the front; with focusable lens, thanks to hundreds of zonules (string-like fibers allowing it to change shape for focusing), and protective cornea; and 126 million photoreceptor cells (in the right place, on the back side), which give us accurate vision, and in color no less; and a few other details left out to simplify matters; and an optic nerve that carries all the info to where a brain can get it all right? An accident of evolution? Probabilities don’t say so. What about the similar complexities of every other organ of the human body? We can live without eyes, but most organs are necessary for life, and we die when one stops working. If each organ evolved into existence one at a time, how did our ancestors do life before the liver existed, or the kidney, or the stomach and other parts of the digestive tract to provide us with nourishment, the lungs, the heart, et cetera? Were the forebears with only the first half of life-necessary organs tougher than we are? Or what mechanisms would have enabled life before each of those organs evolved into existence, without which we cannot live? Each is a miraculous creation, but their complementary interaction is even more so. Man being created with all of them initially is understandable; other routes into existence test reason so much more. The availability of nourishment is a miracle, and so is each plant. Reproduction is a miracle. How did plant seeds begin? How did bi-gender human procreation come about by evolution when the sexes are so different and uniquely designed? What are the probabilities that sperm and egg, by random routes into existence, could produce people? No other two known substances even come close to such a miracle. Even if those routes were possible, probabilities would have one gender coming into existence so long before the other that it would likely have phased out before the other wonderfully unique gender got around to such a marvelous accident. And the organs of the two are so different, and produce substances so different, and the substances are inside the bodies, not on the outside where contact is more likely, yet the mechanisms are in place that the two inner substances can meet? And make people? How cool is that? And it’s a wonderful experience! Er, rather, what I meant was that the probability of each of those steps or features is one in zillions, and taken together the probability of bi-gender reproduction coming about by chance is one over a few zillion raised to the power of the total number of steps/features, such that I ask: is it feasible that male and female could come into existence, independently, by chance evolution, and about the same time, in order to continue, and be such a perfect match for each other, all by accident? I don’t think so.
As well, the series of theories for our solar system is far from finalized. So while the minds presumably in the know multiply theories, I hope they consider these probabilities. The law of gravity states that mass attracts mass proportional to the amount of each mass and inversely proportional to the distance. So how did the sun, 330,000 times the mass of the earth, end up with the lightest gases (hydrogen and helium), and the earth, puny by comparison, end up with mostly heavy rock and metals? We fill balloons with helium, and when the toddler lets go, it goes up because helium is lighter than air. And hydrogen is even lighter than helium. So whatever directions and speeds the elements were flying when a group of them decided to become this solar system, would not the greater masses end up with the heavier stuff? And what is the probability that one of the masses could become a beacon of combustion to burn a few billion years by a random coming together of elements, if not by design? And there are a whole bunch of those suns all over the universe!
Consider also circular orbits. Though an orbit must necessarily be slightly elliptical, the nearly circular orbits of all the planets (Pluto has been demoted, no longer a planet) combine for another huge improbability. Again, the theories (in two general categories) have varied over the years, but whether the planets are presumed to be offshoots from the sun or coagulations of solar debris, the probability of the resulting direction and speed of such an offshoot or coagulation ending up as a circular orbit is miniscule, so very small compared to the infinite number of all the possible elliptical orbits (like comets). Add to that the probability that the first eight planets all have circular orbits—one over something less than infinity raised to the 8th power! Sometimes I wonder how it is possible to think things through thoroughly and be an atheist. And the above are only a handful among millions of awe-inspiring details of design.
Then, as a linguist, I consider language and the Book of Mormon. After returning from a Navajo-speaking mission, I was interested in possible language evidence for Lehi in America, so I began studying Hebrew, Egyptian, Arabic, and a variety of Native American languages, with looks at Chinese, Japanese and other East Asian languages. Naturally, I first considered Navajo, yet even before I became a linguist and before I knew that linguists knew it, I could see that Navajo and the rest of the Athapaskan language family suggested a Bering Strait crossing for that group. Did I conclude that the Book of Mormon was false? No. Other factors, mentioned above, were the sources of my surety. That search result only meant that the search was still on. As I looked at many Amerindian language families, a few offered interesting parallels. After studying for an M.A. in linguistics and a PhD (ABD) in Near Eastern languages/linguistics (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic), I could see more things and see them more clearly. I dare not say yet all the parallels that I see, for even the one language family (Uto-Aztecan) in which I am an authority, have written “the book” for, and for which I have published only the first 10% of evidence for Lehi in America—even that has spawned enough warm debate that I see little sense in further vexing non-believers until I can write up the whole of the matter well enough to eliminate much need for debate. Even now, linguists, LDS or otherwise, who look at the data with an open mind are usually overwhelmed by the strength of the case, and it’s only the tip of an iceberg that may provide some ripple effect for the Titanic of conventional wisdom regarding some Amerindian origins—as soon as I can find the time to finish figuring it out, put it all together, and publish it more fully.
Besides the language dimension, hundreds of other internal, external, and circumstantial evidences for the Book of Mormon leave no doubt in my mind that it is the word and work of God, and thus highly relevant to us for this life and our eternities.
In summary, when I consider the probabilities of answered prayers, the heart-changing witnesses of His Spirit to mine, the thousands of miracles in the workings of the world, the body, the universe, and the evidences for the Book of Mormon—I am as sure of a Heavenly Father as I am of my earthly father’s existence, whom I can see and talk to every day. For my Heavenly Father also talks or communicates to me, by His Spirit on occasion, and I see His workings in my life and in nature every day.
Having proven to my own satisfaction, many times over, the validity of His words which I can test, I have no reason to doubt the rest of His words regarding eternal life and things I am in no position to test. And the best part is that He is mighty and merciful to us mortals so weak: we only have to come unto Him and do our best, and He makes up the rest.
Some say that reason dismisses God and religion as superstition. But I and many say that reason speaks overwhelmingly in favor of God, not against. To let a handful of temporary ambiguities offset thousands upon thousands of evidences of Him would be foolish—especially when the results are eternal and only depend on what we do with what He openly offers to all.
Brian D. Stubbs (MA in linguistics and coursework toward PhD in Near Eastern languages and linguistics, both at the University of Utah) is a linguist who teaches at the College of Eastern Utah and who has studied scores of Native American languages, as well as Hebrew, Arabic, Egyptian, and Aramaic. His book Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary is the latest and largest in the field, double the size of previous works on comparative Uto-Aztecan studies. Other works include a White Mesa Ute dictionary, three articles in the International Journal of American Linguistics, a website (www.uto-aztecan.org/uanist/), and other articles in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and with FARMS and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Coming publications on a linguistic tie for Uto-Aztecan with Egyptian and two dialects of Northwest Semitic may emerge as his most controversial and valuable contributions.
Posted January 2011
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