Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Habit of Reverse Engineering

In recent years, many people have fallen into the habit or “reverse engineering,” that is, starting at the end (what exists) and working backward, as opposed to starting at the beginning and working forward. While reverse engineering has its place and can, at times, be a valuable tool in modern technological fields. It is, after all, an excellent tool for working out time frames, i.e., if you have to have something done or be somewhere at a certain time, then work back from that point and the present, figuring everything that has to be done in between so you know when you need to start preparing, getting ready, or what steps need to be accomplished first, etc. 
However, it is the field of pre-history to which this field has been greatly applied and far to often, to an adverse value. As an example, archaeologists and anthropologists, upon discovering artifacts of ancient, pre-historic civilizations in South America and Central America, decided, without a shred of evidence for support, that ancient man had to  have migrated to the Western Hemisphere across a land bridge in the Siberian-Alaskan area. This later became known as the Beringia Land Bridge, a so-called bridging of land 1000 miles wide that once supposedly filled in the Bering Strait along the North American Plate and across the Bering and Chukchi seas.
    At the time of its inception, this land bridge was the only scientific answer that made sense to scientists to account for ancient man in the Americas. Without anything more to base an opinion upon, the bridge seemed a plausible solution. Over the years since, it has become a “confirmed” event and textbooks and classes all reflect this in the halls of learning.
    As an example, we are frequently asked about one idea or another, or this or that theory, which seems to abound about the discovery and settlement of different locations within the Western Hemisphere. There are probably more theories on these ancient, pre-historic events, or imagined events, than can be listed in any one volume; however, every so often someone tries to attach an ancient theory with the Book of Mormon, and then it becomes of interest, especially when wild ideas evolve about whether or not these ancients were Jaredites or Nephites.
    When dealing with such matters, there are three factors that need to be considered before anything else.
1. Is the idea or theory sound based upon the scriptural record?
2. Is the idea or theory sound based upon historical fact?
3. Is the theory being “reverse engineered” in trying to establish a Book of Mormon connection?
Take, for an example, a recent inquiry we received asking about Josiah Priest’s “Neglected Theory of American Prehistory,” in which the American nonfiction writer of the early 19th century claimed “the earthworks and antiquities found in upstate New York are the result of an occupation by Scandinavians and other visitors from Northwestern Europe and their warfare with an invading tribe of Indians.” He also went on to claim, “The Northern Europeans emigrated across the Atlantic in the ninth or tenth centuries, visiting Iceland, Greenland, and passing down the St. Lawrence River (he claimed Punic inscriptions have been found in that area) and settled in the lands immediately south of Lake Ontario and into Pennsylvania.”
    At first glance, three glaring problems jump right out when trying to compare with historical fact:
1. The St. Lawrence River does not flow “down,” but up from the Gulf of St. Lawrence toward the Great Lakes area; such sailing would have been against currents and winds;
2. At Montreal, 550 miles upriver from the St. Lawrence Gulf, the river was impassable for millennia at what is now called the Lachine Rapids (discovered and named when looking for a route to China [la Chine is French for China];
3. Montreal to Oswego, New York—“in the lands immediately south of Lake Ontario”—is a distance of 237 miles; however, there is no record of any immigration into the U.S. from Europe or elsewhere that went inland to settle, rather settlement was along the coast near where landings took place, which is true with the Scandinavians in all their settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and New Foundland, as well as all Europeans in the Americas.
Top: The Lachine Rapids blocking passage past Montreal; Bottom: Red Arrows: Flow of the St. Lawrence River toward Lake Ontario as it passes around Montreal; Brown Arrows: Areas of the Lachine Rapids and other rapid obstructions; Green Arrows: New channels dug around Montreal to avoid the rapids
    Thus, it seems obvious that in the early 19th century, without knowledge of Montreal and Lachine that is now known, Priest simply looked at a map, saw that the St. Lawrence river seemed to flow downward (drawn to the south on a map), and that it extended to Lake Ontario—unknown to him at the time, the rapids kept any vessel from sailing beyond Montreal, and the river flows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic, not the other way around.
    The point is, reverse engineering was taking place. That is, a location was found—artifacts south of Lake Ontario—and Priest attached to that settlement the only people he knew who came across the northern route, i.e., Scandinavians and Northern Europeans. Whether or not they could have sailed to Lake Ontario was never considered. The map showed it could be done.
    This is not unlike John L. Sorenson and his Mesoamerican theory, which started out with the ruins found all over Central America, which just had to be Nephite. How Lehi got there was never a concern. The buildings convinced him that Nephites were there. However, the fact that almost nothing matches the scriptural record that began to crop up time and again, were summarily dealt with by changing the scriptural statements, in directions, distances, land relationships, etc.
    The same can be said of the Great Lakes theorists and their proximity to what they think is the hill Cumorah of the scriptural record; however nothing about their land relationships and seas agree with the scriptural record, not could that area have been reached as Nephi describes.
The problem with any pre-historic discovery is figuring out what it means, like looking at a Rubiks Cube and wondering where to begin. In regard to the Book of Mormon sites, the answer is to compare it to the scriptural record. Many theorists don’t like to do this, because it means giving up their pet ideas when they don’t agree with Mormon’s descriptions. But reverse engineering solves no problems when it comes to the Book of Mormon. You simply cannot pick a place somewhere on the map and say that is the location of the Land of Promise. If you don’t take Nephi’s descriptions and follow his course, there is simply no way to get to the Land of Promise.
    However, it is always best, if available, to use information that sets out the beginning of such events, rather than try to solve them from the end, or reverse. This is especially true with American pre-history when the Book of Mormon is involved. Consequently, when one discovers a people’s past in the Western Hemisphere, it would be best to see how those people got there from the beginning—the Jaredite, Nephite or Mulekite voyages, to see if the artifacts involved were in an area that could be attribute to them. The problem we experience is when someone decides to reverse engineer the landing sites, i.e., instead of following Nephi’s description of where and how he sailed, they pick a landing site, then backtrack from there.

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