Sunday, December 21, 2008

Prop 8 and a Warning From Our Past

“Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, American philosopher

Recent political events have focused considerable negative attention on the LDS church, designating Mormons as the primary opponents to same-sex marriage initiatives across the country. Battle lines were drawn in California’s ballot initiative, Proposition 8, restricting the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman, effectively eliminating the right to same-sex marriage.

Due to the church’s stand for traditional marriage in that contest, it has since come under attack by the gay and lesbian community. Since the election, rancorous protests and demonstrations have singled out Mormons. Some of our temples and chapels have been defaced, individual Latter-day Saints have been accosted and the church has been demonized in the media by elements of the secular progressive movement.

Because we are in the forefront of the struggle to prohibit same-sex marriages, the gay community has used that as a rallying point against Mormons, declaring us bigoted and “unfair.” Political pressures are likely to escalate as the gay movement in the country continues to gather allies and strength in its push to achieve legitimacy and legal status.

Reflecting upon these recent events, Latter-day Saints would be well advised to recall another time, in the early days of the church, when such political opposition caused us great harm.

Look at our Nauvoo period. From the outset, the Saints had been well received by Illinois residents. Politicians, especially, were eager to court the Mormon vote, as they have been in our recent history.

The new city soon experienced exceptional growth as the highly successful missionary work in England sent converts by the boatload to the small Illinois settlement. The influx of converts overwhelmed the burgeoning frontier city. Joseph Smith and the Brethren were hard put to find room for all of them. Nauvoo eventually became more populous than Chicago.

Exceptional growth has also been a hallmark of the modern church since the early 1960s when Pres. David O McKay articulated the “every member a missionary” program. Since then, our numbers have grown dramatically from just over 1 million in 1961 to over 13 million or more today.

In 1992, a book entitled The American Religion by Harold Bloom, a literary and religion critic, examined Mormonism’s rapid growth. He wrote:

The nation will not always be only two percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. I do not know what figures they project for their increase, in the next generation, but my own guess is that by the year 2020 (when I will not be here), they could well form at least ten percent of our population, and probably rather more than that. Their future is immense … Salt Lake City may yet become the religious capital of the United States. (The American Religion, p.113.)

As Nauvoo, the beautiful city by the Mississippi, grew, so did tensions between the Saints and their neighbors. History repeated itself. Every time the Prophet and his people established roots — New York, Kirtland, Jackson County and now Nauvoo — they were ultimately despised and rejected by their neighbors.

Of course, every Mormon knows the tragedy at the heart of this story. The tide turned once again. The eventual outcome was the expulsion of the Saints from Illinois.

Could we experience a similar outcome today?

As with the Nauvoo Saints, today’s church has more political influence in the nation than its burgeoning membership would seem to indicate. Bloom recognized that reality. “Mormon financial and political power is exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect from one voter in fifty.”

Our current political and financial power, brought to bear in the Prop 8 battle, is partly responsible for our present predicament. By affirming our belief in traditional marriage and putting our financial and political clout behind that doctrinal stance, we’ve once again made ourselves a target.

Like our predecessors in Nauvoo, remarkable growth coupled with our unique doctrinal views has thrust us into the political spotlight. Doctrinal issues certainly played a part in the Mormon expulsion from Nauvoo and would likely have a role in any future clash between Mormons and our neighbors. (An ironic correspondence: The doctrinal flashpoint in the Nauvoo period was polygamy; today, it is the sanctity of traditional marriage.)

Already other rival religious groups in America have labeled Mormonism a “cult,” thus downgrading our status in the eyes of their membership such that persecution of Mormons and our religion becomes more acceptable — even a sacred duty. Thus, Mormons are beneath contempt.

Thus far, sectarian abuse is only verbal and intellectual, but it could easily escalate. Add the in-your-face tactics of the gay community, which is infamous for its confrontational methods, and you have a volatile combination.

Today’s activist factions have taken lessons from the anti-war protestors and civil rights demonstrators of the 1960s and 70s. They’ve carefully observed the success the environmental extremists have had using the courts, beginning in the 1980s. Today’s gay rights activists employ all those lessons learned.

They will not go away, they will persist. The trend is already gaining momentum, in spite of noble opposition. In due time, Americans will be cowed and coerced by these tactics, if history is any indicator. Thus, the time will certainly come when same sex marriage will be given legal status in one state after another, until it becomes accepted nationwide.

What then? Those who oppose them will be branded as bigots and homophobes for wanting to deny civil rights to a segment of the populace. The tide will have turned. Once again, the Saints will see an emboldened movement rise up against us, empowered by law and the crushing authority of the state. It will then be forced upon us, and we will certainly be made to suffer, as did our forebears.

There will certainly be dissentions within the church. Out of fear of persecution, personal harm and reprisals for their beliefs, many will deny the faith. Those who stand firm will see themselves disenfranchised.

This eventuality has menacing implications and stunning echoes of the Nauvoo tragedy. Religious intolerance in that instance went hand-in-hand with political and social intolerance. Indeed, our stance today could consolidate otherwise disparate elements of American society to create an unholy alliance that would then present a united front against us.

Such a confrontation would take the shape and form it took in the Nauvoo period, pitting the church against other American institutions, the Mormons against their fellow Americans.

According to the statements in his book, Bloom believes “the twenty-first century will mark a full-scale return to the wars of religion.” Of course, that is what happened first in Jackson County and then in Nauvoo — a war of religion that cost Mormons dearly.

There are those who might say that such a thing could not happen in a time when such obvious prejudice and bigotry are nearly nonexistent, that the law cannot be perverted as it was over a century ago on the American frontier. But those who so believe ignore the lessons of history, and are thus doomed to repeat its mistakes.

This is the heart of the issue at hand. Today’s members could find themselves faced with a similar predicament to that of the early Saints in Nauvoo. The commonalities between the Nauvoo experience and the present are too significant to be ignored.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008


Reading the essays on this blog may be detrimental to your view of the past, present and future. The ideas presented within are, in some ways, a departure from current, mainstream LDS thought.

But, you should also know that there is nothing presented here that is contrary to the Restored Gospel and the words of our modern-day prophets. In fact, this author’s theories rely heavily upon the revealed wisdom that came to Joseph Smith in the Restoration.

However, you will discover that you’ve not heard these concepts presented in General Conference recently or by your Gospel Doctrine instructor. They will seem somewhat unfamiliar and a bit unusual. Yet, I urge you to suspend judgment initially, because they can be of inestimable value in your quest to embrace the fullness of the gospel.

Additionally, these are expansive topics that can be hard to get your mind around. It takes time and effort to absorb them and assimilate them into your worldview. They range from astronomy to prophecy, from geology to gospel doctrine, from science to religion.

But, if you will make the effort, you will be amply rewarded. Most certainly, it will augment your comprehension of the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith and your testimony and conviction of the Restored Gospel. It will also give you a unified system for interpreting the symbolism of the scriptures as a whole and prophecy in particular. Lastly, but most importantly, it will provide a basis for understanding latter-day temple iconography and ritual — something hard to find anywhere in the church.

If you have an inquiring mind and a thirst for truth, I recommend this material to you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Documenting a Paradigm Shift

This past summer saw the release of two dramatic motion pictures — “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” — both dealing with fictional events surrounding the impact of an asteroid or comet here on our home planet, Earth. Additionally, the Learning and Discovery channels have recently presented numerous documentaries touching upon the same subject.

While all this is very entertaining and informative, the question arises: Why are we seeing this now? Such scenarios were unthinkable just a few short years ago. Reputable scientists of good standing in the scholarly community once ridiculed such ideas as fanciful and impossible — the wildest type of unsubstantiated speculation.

You may recall that the debate surrounding Dr. Velikovsky’s publication of Worlds in Collision was acrimonious. The mere suggestion that the Earth might be menaced by bodies from space caused a firestorm of derision and such antagonism that almost a half-century later the name Velikovsky is still a hiss and a byword in scholarly circles. Interestingly, various individuals who have published and promoted ideas that were first offered by the good doctor have built a number of academic and scientific careers in recent years. Yet, credit is never given to Velikovsky for his preeminence in this area. Instead, his name is judiciously avoided — seemingly at all odds — except to cast further aspersions on his name and his work.

Today we see well-respected scientists and scholars talking and writing about the reality of past and future impacts; Hollywood producers have certainly found valid story line material in the premise; even NASA has sought funding to track killer asteroids and comets, potential Earth impactors. What could have happened to instigate all this recent discussion of past and future impacts when only a few short years ago the mere mention of impacts in these circles would have brought forth defamation, ridicule and derision? Why is this suddenly being taken seriously? Something must have occurred to radically alter their point of view.

A celestial visual aid

The reason for this change of heart in the academic and scientific communities, as well as the newfound media interest in astronomical collisions, can be found in recent history. In July 1994, fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy, as predicted, repeatedly slammed into the planet Jupiter. At least one of those impact sites left a pockmark on Jupiter’s face that was larger than the Earth. Estimates were that the first fragment alone struck with the force of 200,000 megatons! Nineteen more followed, leaving visible impact scars around Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. This was an unprecedented, historic, celestial event. Nothing like it has occurred in our solar system since Galileo Galilei invented the telescope.

What crucial lesson did that impact teach scientists? Cosmic collisions do occur, and in the time frame of a human life. Moreover, if it can happen to Jupiter, it can happen to the Earth. Still more to the point, it most certainly will have happened in the past.

A major shift

Almost overnight the scientific community did a conceptual about-face that was as dramatic as it was sweeping. They had been treated to a celestial visual aid of cosmic proportions; the “impossible” had occurred before their very eyes. There was no denying the possibility of catastrophic impacts any longer.

Seemingly overnight, scientific sleuths discovered impact craters everywhere—not just on other planets and moons, but right here on Earth. Astronomers suddenly noticed that the space around Earth, indeed in the entire solar system, was littered with asteroids and comets — potentially devastating impacts in the making. Space scientists began talking about ways to use existing technology and space hardware to locate and divert any object on a collision course with Earth, thus avoiding the worldwide devastation of an impact. So it is that the Shoemaker/Levi event marked the beginning of a revolution in scientific thinking.

The gush of recent movies and documentaries is simply the media’s response to this dynamic new trend in scientific and academic circles. While all this media attention has the effect of raising the general public’s awareness, the realization is coming very slowly. Even with all this new evidence and conjecture, most people seem nearly oblivious to this conceptual revolution. The man on the street continues to generally disregard any possibility that space debris might bombard the Earth. For most people it is still little more than the premise for an entertaining “action flick.”

The fallout from a cosmic collision

Before the impact of Shoemaker/Levi on Jupiter, the only physical evidence of ancient impacts had been offered by geologist Walter Alvarez and his father, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez, as well as a team of distinguished scientists. They were the first to cite geologic evidence of an impact that probably destroyed the dinosaurs. (See The Prophecy Trilogy, Vol. II, pp. 70, 71, for a discussion of the Alvarez’ discovery.) This was the beginning of a revolution in Geology and Paleontology. Almost overnight, long-held scientific views began to change. The process eventually accelerated to the point that science textbooks were obsolete before they came off the presses.

But, it took the impact of comet fragments with Jupiter to really blow the lid off the sciences. The very foundation of scientific thought — the concept of slow, gradual change — began to crumble. Where for almost two centuries scientists and scholars had seen only slow, uniform processes of change, now they saw catastrophe — sudden, tumultuous events — as the primary mechanism for change.

Oddly, these scholars and scientists try hard to leave the impression with the public that these revolutionary ideas are nothing new for them. They present their new arguments for catastrophic change with as much of a straight face and calm demeanor as they can muster, even though the subject matter is truly revolutionary and sensational compared to the orthodoxy of yesteryear. They seek to make it appear that this novel thinking represents no real shift of opinion at all, that they have always believed and taught catastrophism. Even though they are still loath to use the word “catastrophe,” this is at the heart of the revolution.

Rewriting history

Paleontologists have long recognized that there are clear divisions in the geologic record. Like pages in a book, the deposits of each age lay one atop another, the present epoch at the surface. Even to an untrained eye, when exposed to view they look like the layers of a cake. Each layer contains the fossils of the plants and animals that lived then — a record of stones and bones, if you will. The lines between those ages, between the pages of Earth’s book, are also clearly visible. Those divisions or boundaries, mapped out long ago, are clear lines of demarcation between distinct ages.

The layers were all given names now familiar to all first-year Geology students (Jurassic, Triassic, Permian, Devonian, etc.). The primary layers immediately above and below them define the boundaries. The well-known K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary, made famous by the Alvarez team and which divides the age of dinosaurs from the age of mammals, is only one such boundary.

Until the revolution began, the transition from one age to another — represented by these boundary layers — was thought to have been a slow, gradual process with one form of life gradually replacing another as global conditions slowly changed to favor certain forms of life over other, less adaptive species. Then the Alvarez team proposed that the iridium in the K-T boundary was persuasive evidence of a cataclysmic impact. They maintained that the dinosaurs did not slowly die out, as was previously thought; they were destroyed in a sudden, lethal event and its devastating aftermath.

While the Alvarez’ theory sparked heated debate and captured the public fancy (as with all things having to do with dinosaurs), most paleontologists were still unconvinced. Then the Shoemaker/Levi comet hit Jupiter, presenting for all to see exactly how an impact occurs and what are its effects. There was no mistaking its catastrophic signature. Almost immediately, most opposition was swept away. This event forced scholars to re-examine the Alvarez’ impact theory. Could this be the mechanism that changed the face of the Earth so many times in the past?

It was not long before paleontologists recognized that each of the boundaries in the geologic record represented a mass extinction caused by a cataclysmic event. They now recognize 24 noteworthy extinction events, 5 major and 19 minor. That represents one of the quickest opinion reversals in the history of science — even faster than those wrought by the work of Copernicus, Kepler or Newton!

Craters, schmaters!

Another rapid shift of opinion involves the craters left by impacts. Until the comet fragments hammered Jupiter, astronomers insisted that nearly all the cratering seen on other planets and moons in our solar system (they had spectacular photos of those planets and moons sent back to them by various space probes) were the result of volcanic activity or volcanism. They insisted that all the cratering from impacts was done early on, during the formation of the solar system and that very little had occurred since. After Shoemaker/Levi, they were no longer so cock sure! Once they looked with new eyes, they began seeing impact craters everywhere (as if they had suddenly appeared out of nowhere!). Volcanism, as the mechanism for cratering, died a quick death now that the idea of impacts carried the day. They even went so far as to point out that the Earth would look just like the pockmarked moon if it were not for erosion, which tended to erase the evidence of earthly impacts. It was not long before the impact site for the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs was found on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. They gave the buried crater the exotic-sounding Mayan name for that region: Chicxulub (pronounced chic-shoe-lube).

Peaceful planet or cosmic shooting gallery?

Almost overnight, scientists began speaking of the threat posed by Earth-crossing asteroids and comets. NASA proposed a program and sought funding to find and track any object that might collide with the Earth. Most revealing were some recently declassified, top-secret data dating back to the days of the Cold War that was made public to bolster NASA’s claim of the danger posed to the Earth by near-earth objects, or NEOs.

As it turns out, the United States maintains a number of satellites in orbit as well as super-sensitive listening devices strategically placed around the surface, designed to detect the explosion of nuclear devices. These necessary measures were employed to verify compliance with nuclear treaties. Remarkably, those sophisticated surveillance devices detected several detonations each year in Earth’s upper atmosphere — some of them as large as 1 kiloton. Reports in the media of “mysterious explosions” in remote parts of the world went unexplained because the information was classified. Intelligence concerns prevented it from reaching the scientific community and the public. However, the intelligence community readily identified the mystery detonations as asteroids that entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the military began to declassify this information. The astronomers, geologists and planetary scientists were shocked by the figures. Still more stunning was the frequency with which the Earth is bombarded by space debris and by the size of those objects. Los Alamos scientists now estimate 10 or 11 objects explode in the atmosphere each year with the force of a one-kiloton nuclear warhead. One or more explode yearly with the force of a 15-kiloton explosion — about the same size as the nuclear detonation that vaporized Hiroshima! The largest meteorite struck south of Africa on August 3, 1963, producing a blast equal to a one-megaton nuclear explosion or one million tons of high explosive! It has become apparent that the Earth is constantly bombarded by a variety of “rocks,” ranging in size from a grain of sand to boulders twenty feet wide. Some are even larger.

A mystery, a solution

One of the most mysterious explosions in history occurred in 1908 over Siberia. Called the Tunguska Event after the area primarily affected, it has been the subject of intense speculation and conjecture right down to the present. An enormous fireball rent the early morning sky, as witnessed by hundreds of Siberians, producing a column of flame and clouds of thick, black smoke. A shock wave of epic proportions was felt in England some 5 hours later as it spread out across the globe. The immediate impact of that shock wave alone flattened more than 1,000 square kilometers of Siberian forests!

The mystery intensified when no evidence of an impact could be found — no crater, no meteorite. What could have caused a nuclear-class explosion long before there were nuclear devices? Numerous theories were advanced to explain the lack of a crater: Some thought it was a small comet made of ice that vaporized before impacting; one theory, advanced with a straight face, declared that a tiny black hole had passed through the Earth at that spot; many believed that an alien spacecraft — a UFO with an unstable power source — had exploded before it could land to effect repairs. Yet, now that we better understand the nature of these cosmic intruders, the Tunguska blast can be seen for what it truly was: a stony meteor, roughly 60 meters in diameter, which entered Earth’s atmosphere at an oblique angle and disintegrated in an explosion that virtually vaporized it at about 10 kilometers altitude, instantly converting nearly its entire mass into energy — about the same amount of energy as the Mr. St. Helens eruption in 1980. Had the meteorite fallen to Earth over a populated city, the devastation would have been nearly total.

Life from space

There is still one more noteworthy discovery in all this. Biologists now speculate that life may have been transported around the galaxy by catastrophic means. It is known that certain types of anaerobic bacteria can exist in extreme conditions — buried deep within the Earth where there are almost no nutrients or air, in the sub-zero cold and ice of Arctic glaciers, in the searing heat of Yellowstone’s geysers and hot pots, in deep ocean volcanic vents where no light ever penetrates. Speculation has it that these abilities would also allow this bacterium to survive the heat and pressure of an impact in the ejecta that is thrown free of the planet. Thus, an impact upon a life-bearing planet could throw small amounts of debris containing these sturdy bacteria into space. These bacteria would also be able, they conjecture, to survive the intense cold of space for a prolonged time period as well as the tremendous reentry pressure when their host rock crashed onto a new planet, perhaps millions of miles and centuries later, where these sturdy bacteria could begin the process of life anew.

By these catastrophic means, they speculate, life spreads to every hospitable niche and corner of the universe. It is for this reason that the so-called “Mars rock,” which shows microscopic structures that resemble fossilized bacteria, made such a sensation. If the early conclusions are correct, then this bit of ejecta from the planet Mars may be the best evidence for this dispersion theory, demonstrating how life is scattered throughout the universe. Once again, catastrophism carries the day. The pattern here is unmistakable. Science is turning more and more toward ideas they once thought to be laughable.

Just the beginning

One more element of this ideological revolution should be explored. Until now, it has primarily affected the sciences of Astronomy, Geology and Paleontology. The disciplines of Archaeology, Anthropology and Archaeoastronomy — the study of mankind’s history — have yet to feel the pressure of this revolution; but it will surely come, bringing sweeping change with it. It will force scholars to reconsider everything we believe about our world and our ancestors. It will become apparent that we live on a world that is swept with cosmic disaster on a periodic basis, leaving civilizations decimated and in ruin. Modern man will discover that he has failed to recognize the primary truth that the ancients endeavored to pass along. It will be seen clearly that man has survived numerous cataclysmic events, but only barely. Perhaps then Velikovsky will be acknowledged for his seminal work. More sobering still is the thought that we may succumb to our own cosmic disaster before we realize the truth about our past. Perhaps this is one lesson we will only learn by tragic experience.

So, this is, in every sense of the word, a revolution of ideas, a paradigm shift. It is most gratifying that each new step along this path of discovery brings the world closer to the catastrophist view. It would be encouraging if all Latter-day Saints could fully appreciate what this means to their understanding of the scriptures and prophecy. Joseph Smith would certainly be pleased at this turn of events.

© Anthony E. Larson, 1999

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Prophets and Plasmas

“It is the thunderbolt that steers the universe,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Today’s scholars and scientists dismiss such statements as simpleminded nonsense, based in ignorance.

But, as we have seen, electricity probably plays a far greater role in the universe than modern science recognizes. What if Heraclitus actually knew much more than we do about the nature of the power that organizes and drives the universe?

To illustrate this notion, let’s look at a glaring example from history.

Zeus throwing a thunderbolt

Notice the object Greek sculptors put in Zeus’ hand.

No, it’s not a football or a stalk of corn. The Greek sources tell us this was the appearance of those fabled thunderbolts Zeus was said to have launched from Olympus, the sacred mountain on which he resided. Clearly, it looks nothing like anything we would call a thunderbolt. Yet the Greeks were unwavering. These, they insisted, were thunderbolts. There were many variations, but none of them look like a bolt of lightning to our eyes.

More thunderbolts

The most elementary form was that of a simple missile with a corkscrew configuration.

Numerous illustrations of the weapon show it sending forth leaf-like sepals, then “flowering” into a lotus form. The petals of the lotus/thunderbolt are also elaborated in tradition as horns or wings, a fact that appears absurd today, until we perceive the underlying structure.

Though they differ somewhat, these patterns are, in fact, surprisingly consistent. And that consistency is a vital key to understanding what we see in these sculptures.

So, what are these thunderbolts of the gods?

To answer that question, we must look to a surprising source: the most recent images of similar features in distant galaxies and stars. We must also consider the nature of something called plasma and its electrical properties.

Plasma and electricity

Plasma permeates space. Our entire Milky Way galaxy consists mainly of plasma. It is the fourth state of matter. We are all familiar with the first three, most common states of matter: gas, liquid and solid. We experience them every day. Yet, we are also surrounded with plasmas, though we don’t recognize them for what they are. In fact 99% of the entire universe is plasma!

An electrical plasma is a cloud of ions (positively charged particles) and electrons (negatively charged particles) that can sometimes light up and behave in some unusual ways when ‘excited’ or activated by applying electrical and magnetic fields. The most familiar examples of electrical plasmas on Earth are the neon sign, lightning, and the electric arc welding machine. The ionosphere of Earth is an example of a plasma that does not emit visible light. Fire is a plasma. The cloud of particles that constitutes the solar “wind” is a plasma.


During the late 1800’s, a Norwegian physicist, Kristian Birkeland, explained that the reason we could see Earth’s polar auroras was that they were plasmas. Birkeland also discovered the twisted corkscrew-shaped paths taken by electric currents in plasmas.

Plasma behavior continues to astonish the specialists who study it, and it is radically different from the familiar behavior of solids, liquids, and gasses. It is self-organizing, paring into filaments that intertwine or ‘braid’ into pairs that attract each other at long distances and repel each other at short distances.

Sometimes those twisted shapes are visible and sometimes not — that depends on the strength and the current density being carried by the plasma. Today these braided streams of ions and electrons are called “Birkeland currents” after their discoverer. The mysterious “sprites”, “elves”, and “blue jets” associated with electrical storms on Earth are examples of Birkeland currents in the plasma of our upper atmosphere.

In a plasma, these filaments evolve into braided ropes that can act as electrical transmission lines, much as braided, twisted cable is used to carry electrical power to our homes. As a practical matter, we’ve learned that wound or braded cable carries electricity more efficiently. The apparent reason is that this is the natural configuration for electrical current, as discovered by Birkeland.

Birkland currents form braided filaments

On a cosmic scale, that means they can carry electric power across galactic and intergalactic space, while organizing and driving secondary systems, including stars and planets. Electric current in space, passing through plasma, will take on the corkscrew (spiral) shape discovered by Birkeland (see above).

There are three distinctly different steady state modes in which plasma can operate:

Dark Current Mode - The strength of the electrical current (flow of charged particles) within the plasma is very low. The plasma does not glow. It is essentially invisible. We would not know plasma was there at all unless we measured its electrical activity with sensitive instruments. The present day magnetospheres of the planets are examples of plasmas operating in the dark current mode, as are the giant, but quite indiscernible, Birkland currents that carry the prodigious power throughout the galaxy to light our sun and all the stars.

Normal Glow Mode - The strength of the electrical current (flow of charged particles) is significant. The entire plasma glows. The brightness of the glow depends on the intensity of the current in the plasma. Examples are any neon sign, emission nebulae and the Sun’s corona.

Arc Mode - The strength of the electrical current in the plasma is very high. The plasma radiates brilliantly over a wide spectrum. Current tends to form twisting filaments. Examples of this mode of operation are an electric arc welding machine, lightning or the Sun’s photosphere.

Such filaments have already been discovered in our own solar system. For example, it is known that million ampere currents flowing down the Earth’s magnetic field lines at the northern and southern poles cause the Earth’s aurora to glow. A similar glowing vortex, astronomers dubbed a “flux tube,” was found by planetary explorer spacecraft to connect the planet Jupiter with its closest satellite, Io.


In the early 20th century, Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir studied electric plasmas in his laboratory at General Electric. He further developed the body of knowledge Birkeland had pioneered and was the first to use the name ‘plasma’ to describe the almost lifelike, self-organizing behavior of these ionized gas clouds in the presence of electrical currents and magnetic fields.

Langmuir identified a plasma phenomenon called a “double layer,” a boundary that forms around charged objects immersed in plasma. This boundary, now called a “Langmuir sheath,” surrounds our planet. Invisible to the naked eye, it electrically isolates our world from the Sun’s plasma, called the solar wind, and interacts with it in ways we have yet to fully understand.

Laboratory experiments and simulations on supercomputers reveal that plasma discharge formations, under the influence of electric currents, are remarkably similar to formations observed in remote space. The patterns of plasma behavior are said to be scalable. That is, a high energy electric discharge in plasma will produce the same formations irrespective of the size of the event. The same basic patterns will be seen at laboratory, planetary, stellar, and galactic levels.

Duration is proportional to size as well. A spark that lasts for milliseconds in the laboratory may persist for years at planetary or stellar scales, or for thousands of years at galactic or intergalactic scales.

Because Birkeland currents most often occur in pairs, they tend to compress between them any material (ionized or not) in the plasma. This is called the “z-pinch” effect. Thus, when we look at nebulas in space such as the one pictured above, we are looking at glowing plasma — a celestial thunderbolt of prodigious size — showing the z-pinch effect on a galactic scale.

The most striking feature of the central part of this nebula is its polar symmetry, looking much like those Greek “thunderbolts” pictured on the first page. The central ‘neck’ is where the galactic electrical currents, “pinch” down to create the hourglass figure.

Once again in the photo above, we see the similarities between galactic plasma structures and the lotus-like illustrations from ancient art of the gods’ thunderbolt weapons.

These shapes are uncannily similar to those of Zeus’ thunderbolts drawn by ancient astronomers because such electric phenomena are scalable through several orders of magnitude.

That is, microcosmic or macrocosmic, they always take on the same appearance. They exhibit the same forms and characteristics whether the discharge occurs over a fraction of a millimeter in a laboratory, over thousands of kilometers in Earth’s heavens or across many light-years in the galaxy. In fact, computerized simulations of high-energy electrical discharges in the laboratory indicate that the same patterns can be scaled up yet another 100 million times to galactic size.

A revised view of the past heavens

In the electric model, the actual history of our solar system does not resemble the currently accepted theories of the sciences. Abbreviated “first glimpses” of these discoveries may provoke incredulity, shock, and irritation. Therefore, the reader must be asked to suspend all prior beliefs on the subject, including matters thought to have been settled decades, or even centuries ago in order to give this evidence a proper hearing.

The implications of these new discoveries for aiding in our understanding the scriptures are profound.

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that the catastrophe of Sodom and Gomorrah was caused by a thunderbolt — the plain was “consumed by lightning.” And he added, “Personally I am quite prepared to grant that once-famous cities may have been burnt by fire from heaven.” Also Josephus asserted that the cities had been “consumed by thunderbolts.” Philo wrote that “lightnings poured out of heaven,” destroying the cities.

Such observations dovetail with the Greek traditions of thunderbolts. Accounts in scripture of what might otherwise be considered ‘miraculous’ become understandable phenomena, without detracting from the gospel message they also convey.

In the later years of his life, Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfven, the founder of plasma science, reached a startling conclusion about the nature of the universe. He said that today’s gravitational systems are the “ashes” of prior electrical systems. This remarkable idea and the revelations we’ve seen about plasmas in a near Earth environment requires that we read our scriptures from an entirely new perspective, however unnerving. It raises the possibility that the ancient heavens looked nothing like the skies we see now, and accounts of events from that time must be re-read with this new perspective to more fully appreciate the message they contain.

This is the new perspective Latter-day Saints should keep in mind while re-reading their scriptures — not only prophetic passages but historic accounts such as Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. These can only be fully understood when read with the following in mind:

As recently as several thousand years ago, planets moved under the influence of electrified plasma, a medium that can easily overwhelm gravity. Orbits changed, and catastrophic electrical encounters altered the terrain, the climates, and the atmospheres of planets, including our Earth.

Though the duration of instability is unknown, the final episodes of catastrophe occurred in the time of our early ancestors, who witnessed celestial wonders beyond anything imagined today. Charged planets and moons were held in a close array by electrical forces and were seen as huge spheres in the sky. In periods of instability, plasma discharges passed between planets, capturing the obsessive attention of human witnesses. Ancient sky worshippers observed the resulting plasma configurations as these discharges mutated from one unstable phase to another, seemingly alive, intelligent and habitually combative. It was such events, often earthshaking, earsplitting and terrifying, that supplied the raw content of world mythology and inspired the great religious and symbolic traditions of antiquity.

Claims for such a scenario can be substantiated by comparing the forms taken by plasmas in the laboratory and the symbolic religious art of antiquity — etched on tomb and temple walls, carved on rock, illustrated on religious icons and even painstakingly embedded in vast landforms.

Plasma forms in sacred art worldwide

Plasma physicist Anthony Peratt, the foremost authority in the world on the forms exhibited by laboratory plasmas under the influence of electrical forces, recognized this ancient form of iconography as illustrations of plasmas in space, much as we have identified the thunderbolts of the Greek gods as plasma. That is, Peratt insists that what looks to our eyes as though they were myth-inspired icons, nonsensical doodling or just plain gibberish are actually accurate representations — facsimiles in stone, if you will — of what the ancients saw in their skies. He points out that he has seen all these same forms in plasmas generated in his lab experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratories.

What follows is only a minute sampling of Peratt’s published work, comparing ancient rock art with laboratory experiments and simulations on supercomputers of plasma discharge formations under the influence of electric currents. You will agree that the similarities are stunning.

These are graphic representations of one plasma configuration produced in Peratt’s laboratory that he affirms gave rise the examples of rock art from around the world seen below that he calls “squatter man.”

Note that the squatting position illustrated above is strongly reminiscent of the posture or stance taken by Polynesians in their sacred ritual dances and by Hindu ritual dancers, a connection not previously made by anthropologists.

These images suggest two other possibilities for interpretive use beyond the more common squatting figure. The many arms of the Hindu god, Shiva and the spider, found on the plain of Nazca in Peru
are likely derivatives of the same plasma image.

Most of the symbols and petroglyphs found the world over are probably illustrations of things seen in Earth’s heavens anciently, further demonstrating the universality of these images, as in this Chinese glyph.

This worldwide commonality argues convincingly that there is only one place all ancient cultures could have seen these images: in Earth’s ancient skies.

Another plasma arrangement discovered in the laboratory by Peratt is here illustrated below.

Called a “Peratt Instability,” this plasma configuration takes the shape of a stack of donuts. These graphic and computer generated illustrations of experimentally created plasmas look remarkably like the mythic “backbone of god.”

A multitude of petroglyphs appear to depict Peratt’s stacked toruses. These are only a few among thousands of such examples. So all those squiggly drawings on rocks were based in rock-solid reality.

The stacked toruses, seen from an oblique angle, also took on the appearance of the mythical “chain of arrows.” These can be seen in similar illustrations from sacred art of widely separated cultures.

Heretofore inexplicable rock art that was generally thought to have no basis in the physical world can now be seen as a heroic attempt by ancient cultures to record the plasma phenomenon they saw in the heavens, something they considered to be sacred imagery.

Without the insight these plasma configurations offer, anthropologists are at a loss to explain the origin or the motivation for such bizarre images. They frankly admit that the meaning of such glyphs is a mystery, such as the Egyptian illustration below.

Yet, when seen in light of cutting edge plasma science, the explanation is quite simple, though unexpected. These were things seen overhead in Earth’s ancient heavens. Those that saw them felt compelled to record what they saw in order to preserve what they considered to be sacred. These petroglyph sites were subsequently considered sacred as well, a place to recall the images of the gods and perform rituals.

A more complete and elaborate version of the Peratt Instability is seen here (left) in a computer simulation of an actual plasma experiment in the laboratory.

Compare it to a reproduction of an Arizona petroglyph (right).
The correlation is stunning, and it leaves no doubt about the original subject for this Native American petroglyph.

The computer simulation (left) shows where the increase in current strength begins to “warp at the edges.” The petroglyph (right), precisely reflects those same details. Like the “squatter man” seen above, this is clearly an illustration in stone of a plasma configuration seen in the heavens.

Peratt identifies the parts of the stone glyph that correspond to those elements of a Peratt Instability (below).

Taking a closer view at the torus seen at the base of the Peratt Instability, we see an entirely new figure.

This plasma image (left) figures prominently in the mythology of the past, where it was call the “sky mask,” giving rise to the universal practice of wearing masks in conjunction with religious ceremonies and stacked divinity icons in “totems.” The obvious relationship of these plasma images to sacred imagery leads to only one conclusion: Earth’s ancient inhabitants recorded by every means possible what they could see in the skies above them during an epoch of intense electrical plasma activity in the heavens.

Coming full circle

Having only briefly explored the nascent field of plasma science and its relationship to ancient iconography, there is only one more comparison to make in order to complete our journey.

Like the thunderbolt wielding Greek god, Zeus, the Sumerian god Ninurta is said to have thrown thunderbolts across heaven as he battled the celestial monster, Anzu. A side-by-side comparison of the Sumerians’ illustration of their god’s weapon (far left) with one of Peratt’s electrical “hourglass” formations in plasma (near left) puts a lock on the thesis of this paper.

A cross-cultural comparison of celestial thunderbolts, as in the Hindu vajra (top) and the Greek thunderbolt (bottom) reveals a whole new perspective of the religious iconography of the past and its unexpected, but exciting, connection to plasma physics.

And a comparison of a variety of Greek thunderbolt images (nine images below) to some primary plasma constructs seen in computer simulations of laboratory plasma (five images below) leaves little doubt what the ancient Greeks saw.

The astounding relevance of plasma phenomenon in space to the iconography of the ancients forces Latter-day Saints to consider the likelihood that if these manifestations were so impressive as to motivate cultures worldwide to record what they saw by any method available to them, then this same imagery must have found its way into scriptural accounts recorded by the prophets of God and into the iconography of temples, ancient and modern.

This is the test. And Joseph Smith and the gospel he restored pass it with flying colors.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Electric Universe

Before we can begin to understand the dynamic picture of the ancient heavens that our forebears struggled to communicate to us, which is reflected in the symbolism and metaphor of the scriptures, we must understand the true nature of our universe.

The standard interpretation of planetary history taught universally by modern science is of no assistance here. In fact, instead of illuminating our path to understanding, modern scientific theories have proven the stumbling blocks to understanding the primary messages handed down by our ancestors.

To find the answers we seek, we must turn, once again, to the paradigm rejected by modern science nearly 200 years ago, the one embraced by Joseph Smith: catastrophism.

Electricity was yet to be discovered in Joseph’s day, so he had no knowledge of its power or true function in nature. It was a mere novelty at that juncture. Benjamin Franklin had performed his famous kite and key experiment to demonstrate that lightning was actually electricity only a few years before Joseph’s birth.

Velikovsky was the first in modern times to suggest that “electromagnetism” played a role in ancient planetary encounters. He claimed that ancient accounts were replete with descriptions of phenomena that could only be defined as electromagnetic. Scholars and scientists scoffed, insisting on measuring Velikovsky’s assumptions with the old, gravitational model — the one that still dominates astrophysics to this day.

Planetary electric arc machining

As early as the mid-1970’s, an engineer named Ralph Juergens was the first to describe the effects of electricity in space on solid bodies. He was also the first to see the sun as an electromagnetic engine. While plasmas were not part of his concept, he was the first to recognize the effect of electricity on the evolution of stars and planets. He explained that the strange features found on other planets such as sinuous rilles, canals or canyons, pock marks and craters were formed by electrical activity rather than geological forces or impacts.

Juergens was the first to introduce the idea of scalability in electrical activity. That is, the effects of powerful lightning strikes on Earth served to explain the features seen on other planets and moons in our solar system. Interplanetary lightning impinging upon other bodies, which would be many orders of magnitude greater than any here on Earth, was capable of generating structures similar to those seen in terrestrial lightning strikes but much larger and dynamic in scale — several orders of magnitude greater.

Results of a lightning strike

For example, in this photograph, the bolt of lightning carved a 40-foot furrow across the infield of a baseball diamond. Note the central, sinuous path taken by the lightning in the bottom of the furrow and the scalloped edges of the trench, formed as the energy of the discharge excavated the ground to a depth of several inches and ejected the material away from its path.

Compare that electric scar to photos below of rills on the moon and Mars to see how remarkably similar they are. Indeed, the structure would seem to indicate that these are similar effects of the same phenomenon: interplanetary electrical discharge.

A comparison — whether detailed or casual — of the terrestrial features generated by lightning here on Earth and those found on other planets and moons offers particularly valuable insights on the morphology of such mysterious features. Juergens was the first to suggest that such rilles were patterns of electrical machining on bodies in space.

It was Juergens that maintained that interplanetary lightning could act, with variations due to local conditions, on worlds that are hot or cold, on worlds with high or low gravity, on worlds with or without an atmosphere and on worlds with or without water, lava, or other liquids.

Testing a hypothesis

We stand at the threshold of discovery. At this juncture in history we have a way to test the electric universe hypothesis. If the proponents of the electric universe model are correct, then evidence from space exploration and from laboratory experiments should provide proof of its validity.

By comparing the results of comparatively simple and easily reproducible laboratory experiments (left) with photographs returned to Earth by space probes (right), we see the remarkable similarity between electric arc-generated phenomenon here on Earth and nearly identical structures found on other rocky planets and moons.

The rille pattern traced by an electric spark across an insulating surface dusted with fine powder (left) is remarkably similar to lunar rills (right). Their primary features include the parallelism of the spark paths and the tendency for the tributaries to join the main channel at near right angles. Note also the scalloped edges and the deep secondary channel running along the center of the pattern. Compare these to the lightning strike photo above.

These electrical discharges can take one of three forms on the exterior of a planet or moon. Racing across the surface and parallel to it, an electric discharge machines up material, throwing it out to form a levee on either side as it excavates the trench, as seen in the rille photos. The other two forms, as we shall see momentarily, impinge on the surface at right angles, perpendicular to it. These, not impacts, form the familiar craters seen on our Moon and many other objects in space, including asteroids. Still more revealing, Electric Universe theorists believe that the tails of comets are simply the material machined away from the surface of an asteroid in just such an ongoing discharge.

The power of experimental electrical phenomena to explain the geologic structures seen elsewhere in the solar system is impressive. One is compelled to wonder why scientists are unable to see the similarities and therefore question the possibility that electricity plays the primary role in shaping the surface of the planets.

This photo amply demonstrates the sinuous nature of electrical discharges in the laboratory, matching the rille patterns seen on other planets and moons. Theorists assert that as such charges spread out across the surface of a planet, moon or asteroid, these spidery electrical arcs excavate the material, ejecting it out on either side of their path, leaving behind a scar that is a carbon copy of the arc itself. These winding tracks, left behind by the arc, are commonly called “Lichtenberg figures” and are considered “frozen lightning.”

Such sinuous shapes are also remarkably similar to the filamentary structure seen in tabletop conversation pieces called “plasma balls,” an innocuous form of electric discharge.

The similarities between the effects of lightning strikes, laboratory experiments and rilles seen on other planets and moons are conspicuous and undeniable.

But the similarities do not end there. Even the ubiquitous craters seen on rocky planets, moons and asteroids, which were once thought to be exclusively impact caused, can be better explained as the touchdown points for electric arcs and their machining effects.

Electric arc cratering in the laboratory.

Electric arc cratering on the Moon.

The wonder is that planetary scientists, cosmologists and astrophysicists, stuck in the centuries-old paradigm that excludes electromagnetic forces, continue to refer to these structures as volcanic or impact generated.

Though such evidence passes largely unacknowledged by orthodox science, even the man on the street can recognize its explanatory power.

Relating electric arc machining to the scriptures

This evidence casts a whole new light on scriptural accounts of catastrophic and supernatural phenomena.

First of all, students of the scriptures can begin to see that some accounts of unusual events in antiquity may have described the destructive power of electric arcs with their ability to machine the surface of a planet. Phenomena such as Moses’ burning bush, the “lightning and thunder” on Mt. Sinai, the “brimstone and fire” that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, the “blast” that destroyed the Assyrian army in Isaiah’s day or “fire” that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah and the priests of Baal may have been just such plasma and electrical manifestations.

The language from Elijah’s sacrifice event is especially apt. “Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (1 Kings18:38, italics added.) An interplanetary lightning discharge capable of excavating huge craters and channels by first pulverizing everything at the surface then blasting it away, lasting considerably longer and being many orders of magnitude greater than ordinary lightning in a thunderstorm, could easily be seen as fire that consumed wood, stone, dust and water.

Indeed, the terminology used by the prophets can be seen as much more descriptive of electrical phenomena than other mechanisms capable of such prodigious feats.

More geologic evidence

The nature of electricity is such that it can also cause a “blister” surface effect as well as the aforementioned etching or excavating.

Most lightning strikes are called electric anode arcs. That is, they are actually ground-to-cloud arcs, the cloud being the anode or receiver of the charge. Such anode arcs caused all the previously illustrated crater and rille formations where the violent and powerful upward flow of electrons serves to lift or levitate the surface material.

More rare are lightning strikes called electric cathode arcs. These are cloud-to-ground strikes. Rather than etch the surface, these cathode strikes cause bubbling or blistering of the surface.

As with the anode arc effects, a simple laboratory experiment suffices to demonstrate how an electric arc can create a very different configuration from craters or rilles. These can then be compared with photographs taken on other planets by sophisticated space probe cameras.

In the lab experiment seen here, an electric cathode arc, simulating a cloud-to-ground lightning strike, raises just such a blister.

These bell-shaped blisters are typically called “fulgurites” when formed by earthly lightning.

Profile view

Top view

When compared with pictures taken on other planets, the effects are strikingly similar.

In comparison, we see that Olympus Mons, the most prominent example of what may be an electric cathode arc, has all the characteristics of a lightning blister, including the imbedded crater at the summit of the blister — what planetary scientists typically characterize as a volcanic caldera.

Examination of the evidence strongly suggests that electricity plays a far more crucial role in the formation of planetary features than was previously thought. Yet, mainstream scientists continue to interpret these as strictly volcanic in nature.

What they saw

Of course, the sizeable nature of these formations on other planets suggests bolts of lightning much larger and of far greater duration than anything seen today.

Those would have been almost unrecognizable to us as lightning since they would be heaven-spanning phenomena with prolonged light and sound displays of epic proportions.

The only phenomenon familiar to us that has any resemblance at all to those ancient displays would our Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. For all their magnificence, however, such awe-inspiring, auroral displays are only a faint whisper of the towering celestial displays that our ancestors saw.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

Monday, December 1, 2008

Religion, Science and Catastrophism

An odd thing happened in both religion and science on the way from the past to the present.

Historically speaking, it is well known and accepted that in the Middle Ages the Christian church was the principal sponsor of education in Western cultures. The church held a tight rein. If you wanted an education, you first became a cleric. Thus it was that most scientists and scholars, before the Renaissance, arose from among the clergy of the day. Their worldview was shaped almost entirely by church dogma.

The split

When the Protestant reformation movement began, which eventually gave us the plethora of modern religious sects we see around us today, its earliest leaders came from among those same clerical ranks — Martin Luther, for example. They sought to reform the institutions and dogma of Roman Catholicism.

Ironically, at about the same time, the scholars and scientists as well sought to extricate themselves from the mother church and its orthodox religious dogma, which hindered real intellectual progress. Like their religious cousins, they sought a complete divorce from Roman Catholicism. So in a very real sense, science was simply another religion, a radical protesting faction born of the same milieu that gave rise to Protestantism.

Both catastrophist

The new religions turned to Bible fundamentals for their belief system, hence the term fundamentalism. The new sciences, however, had to invent their own catechism. Secular universities were founded to educate adherents in the new orthodoxy of science and scholasticism. Skepticism and empiricism replaced faith. Yet, not surprisingly, the two new offspring, science and breakaway religion, retained a considerable amount of dogma from the parent church. At the outset, they both shared the Creationist vision (Earth’s creation in seven days, Man’s creation from the dust, the Deluge shaped the world as we se it, etc.). They also shared a similar eschatology: The world would end in a new holocaust sent by the Creator. Thus, it can be said that both were catastrophist.

Ideological ‘drift’

Over time, science further refined its liturgy and its curriculum with doctrines such as Gradualism and Natural Selection. The two institutions — science and religion — drifted further apart over time, becoming more antagonistic and confrontational. In the 19th century, science eventually became patently uniformitarian and evolutionist while religion remained dogmatically catastrophist and creationist.

Ironically, an evangelistic spirit arose in both religion and science, each seeking to win disciples through proselytism. Naturally, a dissension emerged between the two that had not existed as long as the parent church dominated. While they were both trolling the same waters for believers, religion and science each won their own following or ‘congregation,’ if you will. Religion primarily held the hearts of the laymen, while science largely captured the hearts of the intellectuals. To begin with, there were few with feet in both camps.

Furthermore, science divested itself of any eschatology, while religion embraced it more fervently than ever. “Hellfire and damnation” were the watchwords heard from the pulpits of Christendom. On the other hand, if there were to be an end to the world, the scholars declared, it would come not by a god, but by slow, prolonged entropy, Earth’s life failing only when the life-giving light of the sun finally flickered and died. The religionists, on the other hand, retained the fervent belief in the penultimate holocaust, the final, catastrophic destruction of the world and all in it at its creator’s hand.

A revolution in thought

Then the nuclear age dawned, bringing with it a revolution in thought and an astonishing meeting of the minds in both camps.

The first nuclear detonations at the end of World War II brought some agreement between science and religion about the world’s end. Increasingly, they both saw doomsday as a world-devastating nuclear holocaust. Science predicted that mankind would ultimately destroy himself with his own malevolent invention, detonating megatons of nuclear devices in a superpower showdown that would plunge the Earth into a “nuclear winter,” eradicating all life. Science had finally found its own eschatological ‘sacrament.’

Oddly, this also brought and about-face in religionists. They suddenly seemed to agree with the scientists. They saw the atomic bomb as fulfillment of the Bible’s prophesied “fire and brimstone” at world’s end. A revolutionary reversal in Biblical exegesis saw the religionists proclaim that mankind, not God, would be Apollyon, the destroyer. Man now had the power to single-handedly bring about Armageddon. God could sit on the sidelines, a celestial spectator to the end of the world!

A new catastrophism

In the midst of this atomic age rapture, an iconoclastic scholar resurrected Catastrophism, to the horror of both science and religion. Immanuel Velikovsky preached the catastrophic nature of the universe to an unbelieving audience in both camps. Science reacted violently, damning him at every opportunity. Religion, more tellingly, simply ignored him.

Given religion’s catastrophist roots, one might have expected it to embrace Velikovsky and the new Catastrophism to some degree. Instead (and this is the odd thing), religionists have largely ‘shunned’ the Neocatastrophism Velikovsky preached.
Make no mistake, though. When pressed on the issues and worth of Catastrophism, most religionists tend to become even more shrill and acrimonious in their denunciation of it and its proponents than do scientists. Otherwise, they ignore it as if it did not exist.

A view from catastrophe

Catastrophists will see that the new Catastrophism is a litmus test for religion as well as science. In the last century or so, religion has cast off its catastrophist ‘vestments’ to such a degree that it rejects catastrophists and their theories as readily as does science. Thus, in today’s world, catastrophists find themselves ‘excommunicated’ from both science and religion.

Catastrophists will attest that the symbolism of religious imagery and the simple truths of science are all enriched by Catastrophism. Without it, both institutions are awash in ‘strange doctrine’ and ‘strange science.’ Modern religion no longer comprehends the origins of its traditional and scriptural symbolism, iconography, rites and rituals. Modern science turns a blind eye to revelations of fact that would overturn its sacred orthodoxy.

None the wiser

Yet, it is also clear to some catastrophists that both institutions would profit immensely were they to seriously consider Catastrophism and all it implies for the world we live in. Religion could rediscover the richness of it planetary traditions without threatening its faith and humanitarianism. Science would discover a whole new universe out there without sacrificing its empiricism and objectivity. Imagine what might be accomplished.

Sadly, both science and religion have created their own, modern mythology: science to avoid that which it cannot explain, and religion to deny the “paganism” and ancient mythology from which most of its traditions sprang.

The Mormon catastrophist

Mormons are no exception to this rule. Joseph Smith and the early brethren were catastrophists. They lived during the heyday of 19th century Catastrophism, before the concepts of Uniformity and Gradualism were popularized. One need only read their expressions on creation, Earth’s early history and the last days to realize that they believed that the planetary powers, guided by their creator, were responsible for past catastrophes as well as those predicted in scripture for the future. Yet, it is also clear that the Prophet’s views in all things were not shaped by the times in which he lived, but by his exposure to revealed truth.

Given Joseph Smith’s position on the subject, it is rather strange that most modern Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable with Catastrophism. Perhaps it is because they have not taken the time to adequately school themselves in the beliefs and teachings of their founding prophet. In addition, it may be due to the fact that formal gospel training fails to touch on the subject, except in passing. Catastrophism and its attendant hypotheses are studiously avoided in church teaching manuals, and it is never addressed over the pulpit.

Mormons are Christians

It appears to this author that most Saints have been seduced by the same delusion that has afflicted our Christian cousins. We have abandoned our catastrophist roots because they make us uncomfortable when discussed in the context of religion. It all sounds too pagan, too naturalistic and too material; it seems to lack the spiritual element that religion should espouse. Instead, we have adopted the uniformitarian view of the world that science espouses, simply because it is popular. In addition, it gives our antagonists less ammunition to use against us in our struggle to assert our Christianity. That is to say, if all Christendom is uniformitarian, then we should be too in order to appear equally Christian.

Our loss is … our loss

Yet, so much is lost in our present approach. If our scriptures were written by prophets who experienced great catastrophes and celestial displays, if they related those experiences to the gospel and to their visions of the future by creating a unique lexicon of iconographic symbols and written imagery, if our founding prophet was, indeed, a catastrophist, then denying and ignoring that element in their teachings leaves us with a rather sanitized understanding of their pronouncements, prophetic and otherwise.

The rich imagery and symbolism of the scriptures and the gospel can only be truly fathomed by first obtaining the same mindset as those who wrote them. Relating the prophets’ imagery to the unique symbols left everywhere by the cultures they lived in brings a remarkable depth of understanding to prophetic pronouncements. How can we say we understand the gospel if we ignore this vital element?

Joseph Smith did not ignore it. He embraced it. He dedicated considerable time to understanding the Egyptian culture, religion and symbolism because it was closely related to those same elements employed by the Hebrew prophets. Like Abraham, Joseph, sought to restore the cosmological knowledge of our forefathers. That invaluable knowledge is composed of a discussion of planets, stars and the heavens.

Like the Joseph Smith, the creators of Egyptian documents were obsessed with a combination of gods and heavenly bodies, embellishing and re-illustrating them in countless repetitions and variations. The Pearl of Great Price is loaded with such stuff. What is more, the iconography of the ancient world has adorned every temple constructed in this dispensation. Its imagery may look and sound pagan, but the Prophet dedicated considerable time and effort to its exposition. That must mean that it has significant relevance to the restored gospel. If it were unimportant or unrelated to the gospel, why is it in the scriptures and the temples he left us? Is it not reasonable to assume that if Joseph Smith thought a study of these things important, we should as well?

Ignoring Joseph's approach to religious symbolism leaves us in an untenable position. We utterly fail to understand the significance of these things to our comprehension of the gospel.

Is that what we want?

© Anthony E. Larson, 2004

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Elijah and Fire From Heaven

Few Old Testament prophets were as colorful as Elijah. His best-known deed was the calling down of fire out of heaven, which event piques the curiosity of the inquisitive Bible student.

Perhaps few readers have ventured further in the Elijah story because beyond the basic concepts of a dramatic contest with the priests of Baal, the story becomes quite odd. But there is far more to his story that is instructive when one looks beyond the obvious. As ever, the catastrophist point of view illuminates and gives new meaning to the often-overlooked oddities in Elijah’s story.

The rest of the story

So, as Paul Harvey, the eminent news broadcaster, is fond of saying, “Here’s the rest of the story.”

Elijah’s ministry occurred during a time of gross apostasy in Northern Israel. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, brought the worship of Baal, the god of her people, the Phoenicians, to Israel’s Northern Kingdom.

We pick up the Bible narrative where Elijah makes some demands of Ahab that will set the scene for a confrontation with the priests of Baal.

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table. (1 Kings 18:19.)

Once so gathered, Elijah did not preach to the Israelites, nor did he lecture them. He simply, eloquently, put the vital question to the Israelites present:

How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21.)

When they had no answer for him, he challenged them.

I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. (1 Kings 18:22.)

This was a subtle, but unmistakable reference to the difference between his monotheism and the polytheism of those he confronted. He alone served the one, true God, while the multitude of gods (Baalim) that Ahab, Jezebel, and the Israelites worshipped had a multitude of prophets to serve them. The implication was that by force of sheer numbers, the many prophets of the Baalim should be far more powerful than the sole prophet of Jehovah.

Elijah’s challenge

This was Elijah’s challenge to the priests of Baal:

Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under;
And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. (1 Kings 18:23, 24.)

The challenge, then, was to see which god would light the fire of sacrifice — an imposing demonstration for the true God since he alone could command the elements to do so. Thus, Elijah set the stage for the most dramatic demonstration of the powers of Jehovah since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt during the Exodus.

Remarkable similarities

Indeed, the similarities between Moses, Joshua and Elijah are striking. Elijah, like Moses and Joshua, had clearly been informed by the Lord beforehand as to what was about to transpire in the heavens and how to take maximum advantage of the unusual phenomenon about to occur. It is also likely that none of these prophets completely understood what was about to happen, since they had never experienced anything remotely like this before. Still, they acted their part, as instructed.

A powerful lesson

A little foreknowledge goes a long way, giving considerable leverage and stature among onlookers to the one who seems to control such tremendous forces, especially when that information includes knowledge of the rare manifestations seen to accompany a major catastrophic event. There can be no better teaching aid.

Additionally, each worked his ‘miracles’ before thousands of people where failure was not an option. Such faith is rare. Most of us would rather go fishing than put ourselves in such a precarious position. One could easily lose reputation, if not his very life, if the promised miracles did not materialize.

Put yourself …

Imagine putting yourself in harm’s way as they did. The natural forces that would be unleashed in a natural catastrophe of the dimensions we are about to examine could as easily have destroyed the prophet if he failed to follow God’s instructions to the letter. Most of us would be inclined to run the other direction if we thought something catastrophic was about to happen in our neighborhood.

What is more, once they got over their astonishment at the event, the anger of the people for their humiliation and their loss in the wake of these Herculean phenomena would undoubtedly be directed at the prophet — an uncomfortable position, if not fatal, as Elijah learned. (See 1 Kings 19:10.) The bearer of bad tidings, say nothing of natural calamity, is often blamed for the outcome and held responsible with his life.

The idolaters take their turn

Returning to the narrative, we see that the priests of Baal initiated their part of the challenge on Mt. Carmel.

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. (1 Kings 18:26.)

These verses imply that they expected not only fire from heaven to ignite their sacrifice, but they also expected a voice. This may be so because such manifestations of heavenly fire had been accompanied in the past by the voice of god, which is in keeping with the catastrophist model of such events and serves to explain why they held that expectation. Indeed, even the bloodletting may have been in similitude of the blood from heaven that also accompanied such an event.

… And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. (1 Kings 18:28.)

All their efforts were to no avail. Baal had failed to hear their pleas by sending fire from heaven, despite the fact that Baal was known as a fire god.

Elijah’s ‘miracle’

After verbally humiliating the priests of Baal at their failure, Elijah went to work on his part of the challenge. He built an altar with a trench around it.

And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. (1 Kings 18:33.)

Perhaps to add insult to injury, Elijah ordered water poured upon the altar three times until the sacrifice was drenched and the trench around the alter was full. Then he was ready.

And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. (1 Kings 18:36.)

Herein Elijah plainly states that he has been acting under the direction of God, as pointed out at the beginning of this article. Of course, the outcome of the challenge was predictable.

Fire from heaven

Fire fell from heaven, consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, the stones, the dust, and “licked up” the water that was in the trench. (1 Kings 18:38.)
Note that this “fire” did not simply light the wood around the sacrifice. It consumed everything in the area — bullock, wood, stones, dust and water! Clearly, this was no ordinary fire.

The rest of the rest of the story

The remaining part of Elijah’s story, which is usually left out of any exegesis, actually holds the final keys to understanding the nature of the entire episode.
Most notably, Elijah and Ahab were far from the altar when the fire fell from heaven. Elijah orders Ahab up the mountain, saying, “Get thee up, eat and drink,” then follows the king to the top of Carmel. Likely, they are both participating in the consumption portion of the sacrifice, an eating and drinking ceremony, which later came to be the ordinance we know as the Sacrament.

Elijah sets a lookout … but for what?

While so engaged, Elijah sends his servant to keep watch, with instruction to “look toward the sea.” Since Mt. Carmel is located inland from the coast, that would mean the servant was looking east, toward the Mediterranean. The servant repeatedly returned with news that “There is nothing,” whereupon Elijah would send him again to look again. Clearly, Elijah knew something was coming and wanted to be certain of his timing to match the approaching body.

Finally, the seventh time the servant is sent to look, he sees a “little cloud” arise out of the sea and reports it to the prophet who then sends the servant to warn the king to get off the mountain. Elijah knows that it is time to seek shelter from what is to come.

Much more than heavenly fire

Elijah’s foreknowledge of the fire from heaven included far more than that single event.

And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.(1 Kings 18:45.)

Both Elijah and Ahab headed for Jezreel by different routes and means, assumably for the shelter of the city. But Elijah was immediately forced to flee when he learned that Jezebel, upon hearing from Ahab what Elijah had done, swore to take his life.

Wandering text

The narrative at this point diverts from the catastrophist nature of the events and becomes somewhat confused, making this author wonder if is not a later addition or a reorganization of the sequence of events by later writers. In this part of the narrative, Elijah once again takes a ritual sacrament of cake and water and interacts with an angel. This is all entirely plausible, but not in the time frame of the catastrophic event described.

What is clear is that Elijah was prepared to die.

… and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; … (1 Kings 19:4.)

But his resignation to death may not have been due to the threat uttered by Jezebel. The fact that Elijah ultimately takes refuge in a cave rather than some man-made dwelling suggests that he sought to escape a life-threatening, natural event of epic proportions that was unfolding around him. This was typical of past catastrophic events, even as it will be in future events. (See Revelation 6:15.)

Catastrophe spectator

Standing at the entrance to his cave, his face wrapped in his mantle for protection (vs. 13), Elijah watched the advancing storm.

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind and earthquake; but the lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11, 12.)

This was the final chapter in a catastrophic event that only began with the fire from heaven. It properly should be connected with that event from the beginning of the narrative. The intervening text only serves to obscure that fact, leaving one to wonder if the chronicler truly understood what was going on at that point in time.

A possible model?

Searching for a catastrophist model that might explain all the strange manifestations reported in connection with Elijah’s challenge, perhaps the near-impact model best explains them.

Wal Thornhill, plasma physicist and proponent of the Electric Universe theory, does not agree with the typical impact scenario described by today’s planetary scientists and as depicted in recent motion pictures and television documentaries. He claims that long before most comets or asteroids that might have Earth in their crosshairs ever reach their target, a discharge or series of discharges leap across space to equalize the net electrical charge of the two bodies, Earth and the intruder.

Notably, the scenario outlined above fits the Elijah story very well. Not only would an interplanetary lightning bolt fall to earth from a clear sky, a mountain, elevated above a surrounding plane, would be a likely place for it to strike. Thus, Elijah’s decision to locate the challenge on Mt. Carmel would have facilitated such a strike.

Fire? Or lightning?

The fact that the lightning bolt not only consumed the sacrifice but the altars as well suggests another phenomenon that Thornhill ascribes to these interplanetary discharges: electric arc machining.

According to Thornhill, these discharges are not unlike the electric arc that welders use when they employ a carbon rod to machine away material from the point of contact. He theorizes that most cratering seen to scar the faces of planets and moons in our solar system are the result of electric arc machining. A brief arc of this type between the Earth and an intruder would suffice to explain the consumption by “fire” of Elijah’s sacrifice and altar.

A near impact

The “little cloud” that Elijah’s servant reports emerging from the sea was probably the approaching object as it seemed to rise from the horizon. Looking in the right place, one might see the object coming, depending upon its size, for several hours before it actually passed the Earth. This would also explain the subsequent events, whether the object impacted the Earth or narrowly missed.

Close pass or impact?

If the object passed close by the Earth, its gravitational and electrical influence would still have caused the darkened skies, wind and earthquake reported in the narrative. The sky would darken ominously, and what would have appeared to be a great storm would quickly approach as the effects of the intruder made themselves ever more manifest in the Earth’s meteorology. This would produce “a great and strong wind” followed immediately by an earthquake as the object passed by.

Hearing voices

The “still small voice” is often interpreted spiritually as the voice of the Holy Ghost. While that possibility cannot be discounted, it may be that this was not so in this case. Since the voice, in this case, occurred in immediate proximity to a series of catastrophic phenomena, it may have been another variation of the many sounds heard to come from the heavens in such planetary disasters. Sometimes it sounded like an spoken word, such as the name Yahweh, uttered as a roar or as a whisper. Other times it sounded like trumpets, bells, chimes, drums or cymbals. Sometimes it was harmonious, as a choir; other times it was more cacophonous and dissonant than the loudest rock-and-roll concert you can imagine. And sometimes, it was a “still small voice” that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Additionally, the narrative clearly differentiates between the “still small voice” and the voice of the angel that often conversed with Elijah.

Elijah’s catastrophe

So we see that the fire from heaven in the days of Elijah was likely only part of a greater catastrophic event. And like earlier prophets who came forward during ancient catastrophic events, Elijah was equal to the task. This puts him in elite company. Indeed, careful examination of the biblical record reveals that the greatest prophets, those most remembered and revered, served during times of planetary catastrophe.

Most biblical scholars, untrained in the discipline of catastrophism, fail to notice the larger picture. Thus, they focus on the various elements of the catastrophic event as autonomous and unrelated. In this author’s opinion, this presents a distorted and laconic view of the actual event. This is the case with many scriptural accounts, including Joshua’s Long Day, the Exodus and events predicted for the last days in Revelation.

One thing is certain. The catastrophist view of history and prophecy allows a more complete and revealing understanding of the scriptures than does the orthodox interpretation as we see in Elijah’s adventure.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2002