Monday, February 9, 2015

The Eye of Reason – Part III

Continuing from the previous two posts regarding some of Kent Ponder’s forty critiques of the Jaredite barges.
“The Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions” (Ether 2:5); “The Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him” (Ether 2:14)
    In this post we will respond to Ponder's critique of “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood” (Ether 2:20). It is, perhaps, the most frequent and harshest of the criticisms flung at the overall story of the barges.
    As Ponder states: “Despite the common-sense requirements of structural integrity of ships that will be on the ocean carrying flocks and herds of animals and their feed for a year, all boats are finished, and then, as an afterthought, holes are hacked into that finished structure, one in the top and one in the bottom (because when it flops upside down in stormy seas, the bottom becomes the top.”
    Ponder also notes: “How many boats would you have to finish before noticing no air and no light? Could you finish all eight boats before that dawned on you? Especially if you had built several similar boats and traveled in one of them four years earlier? Is it sensible to finish even one before noticing? Do you know any carpenter who would do that? Would the Lord himself not think of the need to breathe and to see, and then wait until the end to be asked about these life-or-death issues? Would a person of common sense build even a mountain cabin, finishing all walls inside and out, before thinking to make a window hole, without thinking about breathing and seeing inside? Wouldn't the Lord think that the sensible time to plan and build windows for air and light was during construction, not waiting to hack holes after finishing all boats, as a "whoops!" reaction? Would a sensible deity or human do that?”
    It is interesting that Ponder and others do not realize that the Jaredites knew what they were building—a submersible (submarine) vessel that would, at times, be required to be under water in the turbulent conditions of the deep sea. There could be no windows, no openings, no way for the sea to enter in. They knew they were building barges that were “tight like unto a dish” and that were so airtight, they could “hold water.” It was no surprise to them there was no light inside and there were no openings.
A Civil War submarine (the Hundley) was pitch black inside and the only light was that of a candle (shown in bottom image). Understanding this completely, the brother of Jared asked the Lord for some way to have light inside the barges
    However, it was a concern to the brother of Jared and, no doubt, the other Jaredites, that they would be traveling across the sea in the pitch black interior of the vessels. Whether it was the brother of Jared’s initiative to ask of the Lord for light, or Jared nudged his brother in that direction, is not known. But the point is that they were concerned about having no light. They were also concerned about how air might enter an enclosed, airtight vessel. Consequently, these two questions were foremost in their minds and, since it was the Lord’s design of the barges, the brother of Jared naturally asked the designer for an answer.
    So when the Lord told them how to solve the ventilation problem, Ponder interprets that to the “hacking of holes” in order to let in air. But the term “cut a hole” is what the Lord used with the 2100 B.C. Jaredites, suggesting a much more even and exact opening. Today he might have said to engineers, “Insert a ventilation shaft opening,” or to a firefighter “make a trench cut.” And, the fact that the opening had to be a specific size relevant to the cubic footage inside the vessels, no doubt the Lord gave specific instruction as to its dimensions so the correct amount of air would flow in, forcing the right amount of air to exhaust.
    Also, in the case of the barges that were, in effect, a submarine of some type, capable of remaining airtight beneath the surface, cutting the hole, of course, could not have been done until after the inside of the vessel was gutted by removing the interior fibers and compost buildup, and in the case of a tree, only the inner sides of the outer trunk exposed. It would also have been easier to start the cut from the inside through the growth part of the bark (phloem), after it was hollowed out, rather than the tougher, outside bark (cork cambium).
    Consequently, if Ponder wants to talk about “the order of procedure,” then with the baobab tree, it would take:
1. Uproot the tree
2. Cut an opening for a door
3. Gut out the inside of the tree
4. Finish off the insides (probably by burning the excess away)
5. Cut ventilation openings
    This order follows the listed activities of the scriptural record and requires no criticism or jocular comment.
Nor does it imply a surprise on the part of the Jaredites when the brother of Jared approached the Lord and reported that he had completed the task assigned. “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me” (Ether 2:18). Nor does the word “cry” imply anything out of the ordinary—the brother of Jared had performed his duties and was reporting back (to LDS the concept of “reporting back” is well understood). In fact, the word “cry” was defined in 1828 as “to utter in a loud voice, by way of earnest request of prayer” and “to exclaim, to utter in a loud voice.”
    In his report, the brother of Jared reminded the Lord there was no light and no way to get breathable air into the vessels, ending in effect with “What should I do?” The Lord responded by telling him the solution for one thing, but then asked the brother of Jared to figure out the answer to the second problem.
    Ponder asks tongue-in-cheek: “Would the Lord himself not think of the need to breathe and to see, and then wait until the end to be asked about these life-or-death issues?”
    To many people, especially Christians, there is a strong belief that the Lord will take care of everything; however, the reality of our relationship with the Lord is that he expects us to do all we can do ourselves before asking for his help. The story of the brother of Jared is a good reminder of that.
    It is also probable that in Jaredite times, the brother of Jared might not have had sufficient knowledge to figure out how ventilation could work in an airtight space, no doubt not having any experience with such construction--so the Lord answered his question. However, it is far more likely one could put their mind to a general type problem—providing light—and the Lord placed the onus on the mortal’s shoulders to figure that one out himself.
Now, as for the openings themselves, the Lord used language that made sense to the Jaredites, for they were looking at “felled” trees, which they had gutted and readied according to the directions given. We need to keep in mind that in the middle of the description of the barges, and their construction, the narrative (Ether 2:17) introduces the term “tree,” as to its length, the only time in the entire scriptural record such a measurement is given, suggesting the vessel was an actual tree (see the book Who Really Settled Mesoamerica). To cut a hole in the top and the bottom would have been perfectly clear—that is, the top of the tree and the bottom of the tree. Nor would this suggest the top and keel of the barges, but in reality, the fore and aft (front and back). And as stated in an earlier post, whether a tree is alive or dead, standing or lying down, growing or uprooted, it has a top (branches) and bottom (root system).
    The point of all this is simply that the scriptural record reads simply and easily to describe what took place among the Jaredites, where they began, where they went, and how they got there, including the discussions between the brother of Jared and the Lord. The “Eye of Reason” is clearly shown in the scriptural record for those who look for it rather than try to find something to criticize or make careless and unrealistic assumptions.

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