Late in 1998 the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS - an LDS research group operating under the umbrella of the LDS Church) included a sidebar in their Journal of Book of Mormon Studies titled "Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revised" (volume 7, number 1, 1998, p. 77). The article began,
For many years the Smithsonian Institution has given out a routine response to questions posed to them about their view of the relation between the Book of Mormon and scientific studies of ancient American civilizations. Statements in their handout pointed out what somebody at the Institution claimed were contradictions between the text of the scripture and what scientists claim about New World cultures.
Continuing, the article mentioned that LDS anthropologist John Sorenson critiqued the Smithsonian statement in 1982, pointing out the "errors of fact and logic" which it allegedly contained. In 1995 Dr. Sorenson revised his critique and, according to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, recommended that the Smithsonian "completely modify their statement to bring it up-to-date scientifically."
FARMS noted that it's officers later spoke with a Smithsonian representative who indicated a willingness to make changes. More recently there has been some question from certain members of Congress about whether it is appropriate for a government agency to take a stand regarding a religious book.
According to FARMS, in March of 1998 the Director of Communications at the Smithsonian Institution began using a two paragraph response to "queries about the Book of Mormon" (see below) which basically states that the Smithsonian does not use the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide.
After reading the FARMS article I was curious about the absence of the reasons the Smithsonian did not use the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide. The previous statement offered by the Smithsonian had listed several specific points of contention between science and Book of Mormon claims (among them the physical type of the American Indian; the Book of Mormon's anachronistic assertions of New World pre-Colombian use of Old World metals, domesticated food plants, animals, and other items; the absence of any confirmed relationship between the archeological remains in Mexico and remains in Egypt; the absence of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World).
Therefore, I wrote to the Smithsonian to inquire about the new statement and their reasons for the changes. Following is the text of my letter to the Smithsonian Institution; following that is the text of the letter I received in response.
3 February 1999
Public Information Officer
Department of Anthropology
National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC 20560
Dear Sir or Madam:
It has come to my attention that the Smithsonian Institution has issued a new "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon." I would appreciate it very much if you would provide me a copy of this Statement using the enclosed pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope.
I would also like to know what has precipitated the necessity of a new Statement. Is there anything in the Smithsonian Institution's previous "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon" (the copy I have is designated SIL-76 1988) which has been proven inaccurate by subsequent research? If so, would you please instruct me on what those inaccuracies may be?
Thank you very much for your help and kind attention to my inquiry.
(Signed) Sharon A. Lindbloom
9 February 1999
Dear Ms. Lindbloom:
Thank you for your letter. We still stand by our former statement on the Book of Mormon. It was a decision of the Smithsonian's central Office of Public Affairs to simplify the statement to respond to general questions regarding the Smithsonian's use of the Book of Mormon. Below is the statement we presently distribute for these general inquiries.
Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology.
The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archeological research and any information that you may have received to the contrary is incorrect.
I hope I have answered your question.
(Signed) Ann Kaupp, Head
Anthropology Outreach Office
National Museum of Natural History