New Release: B. H. Roberts’ “New Witnesses for God”, vol. 2 of 3

In A New Witness for God, originally published as a stand-alone work in 1895 and previously released, Roberts made his case for Joseph Smith. Volumes 2 and 3, published in 1909, make his case for The Book of Mormon. This, not his devil’s advocate “Studies” that sometimes attract more attention (both apologetic and critical), should be considered Roberts’ key treatment of the Book of Mormon. Vol. 2 is now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg thanks to the dedication of Diane Evans, who also proofread vol. 1 and is now working on (wait for it…) vol. 3.

Volumes 2 and 3 discuss four topics:

I.—The Value of the Book of Mormon as a Witness for the Authenticity and Integrity of the Bible; and the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

II.—The Discovery of the Book of Mormon and its Translation, Migrations, Lands, Intercontinental Movements, Civilizations, Governments, and the Religions of its Peoples.

III.—Evidences of the Truth of the Book of Mormon.

IV.—Objections to the Book of Mormon Considered.

Vol. 2 treats the first three, with Part III forming the bulk of the text. Among other evidences, Roberts discusses at length the testimony of the Eight, Three, and other witnesses, as well as then-current knowledge of the ancient Americas as it relates to The Book of Mormon. It’s a must-read for understanding B. H. Roberts’ thought on the founding scripture of the Restoration. Expect volume 3 to be released sometime next year.

New Release: “History of the Church”, vol. 2

All you who have already finished volume 1 and have been waiting on pins and needles, rejoice! History of the Church vol. 2 is now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg thanks to excellent work by Emma Cahoon, one of our interns last summer, and Mariah Averett, our BYU research assistant. (Mariah’s work is generously supported by a handful of donors, who we also thank.) They’ve put a tremendous amount of work into it; producing a book of this size that maintains the original footnotes, page numbers, index, etc. is quite an achievement.

If you missed vol. 1, that’s available here. More to come in the coming months.

New Release: “The Vitality of Mormonism” by James E. Talmage

Turns out Talmage wrote two works with this title: the pamphlet subtitled “An Address”, which we’ve previously released and discussed, and the book subtitled “Brief Essays on Distinctive Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”, which we’ve just released on Project Gutenberg. They don’t seem to be related by much other than Talmage’s enthusiasm for the title.

Talmage states in his preface: “The short essays following have been published at weekly intervals through two years; they number therefore one hundred and four. Concise rather than exhaustive treatment has been attempted.” They treat a variety of gospel topics. Frankly, this is another one where other people did all the proofreading and I haven’t been able to read it yet, but it’s Talmage and that alone is a pretty good recommendation.

With this, Project Gutenberg has a pretty complete collection of Talmage’s out-of-copyright original religious books. (His scientific works are a bit outside our typical scope, so don’t hold your breath on that front.) Pat on the back to all the volunteers involved, both ours and those from Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders (responsible for Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith).

New Release: “Gospel Doctrine” by Joseph F. Smith, ed. Widtsoe

Elder John A. Widtsoe’s 1919 compilation of Pres. Joseph F. Smith’s sermons and writings is now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. (Still also available on the internet as a $30 paperback, but really…)

At 685 pages, it’s a pretty meaty doctrinal work. Widtsoe is fantastic, and as the preface states, this is his “Joseph F. Smith—Greatest Hits” compilation:

President Joseph F. Smith was so long in the public service of the Church that his published sermons and writings would fill many volumes. The difficult problem of the compilers of this volume has been to make a collection of extracts that would do full justice to the man and that, at the same time, could be contained in a volume of moderate size. Every reader who knows Church literature will note the shortcomings of the work; and none more than the compilers. However, incomplete as it may be, this collection is well worth while, for it contains a wealth of gospel wisdom, to instruct, comfort, and inspire the Saints.

The literature of the Church has been carefully and systematically searched to discover all of President Smith’s public writings and sermons. Those of a historical nature have not been used in this collection, as they may well be made into another volume.

The compilers give their thanks to the many who, with hearts full of love for President Smith, have helped in the work.

The work has reaffirmed to us that prophets, speaking for God, are with us.

The Compilers.

Thanks to Noah Read for proofreading the whole text. Enjoy.

New Release: History of the Church, vol. 1

Our multi-format free e-book of History of the Church, vol. 1 by Joseph Smith (ed. B. H. Roberts) is now available on Project Gutenberg thanks to the work of intern Jared Ure and research assistant Mariah Averett. It takes the history of the Church up to 1834 and includes the original 1902 edition page numbers, footnotes, and index.

A discussion of why we’re producing the History of the Church may be in order. The entire History of the Church is available as a paid Kindle e-book or for free as a webpage or .pdf, and the Joseph Smith Papers are reproducing much of the same material. The Joseph Smith Papers are available for free online (in a format that I find isn’t friendly to through-reading, but is fine for looking up one-off documents) and are superior as a scholarly source, but for whatever reason their e-books are absurdly expensive on Kindle (up to $40/volume, last I checked) and many volumes don’t appear to be available in e-book formats.

So why invest a substantial amount of time in producing our own version? Because best I can tell, this is the first time this material has ever been released for free in Kindle and epub formats. I think there are plenty of readers in the Church who would like to give the History of the Church a try, but don’t want to have to sit at a computer or pay to do so. Now they can.

This fits with our broader philosophy: we want to make it as easy as possible to read Church literature and thus increase the total amount of Church lit that actually gets read. Taking obscure works from unavailable (e.g. hard copies exist in one archive) to free improves availability. Taking well-known books from free+inconvenient (e.g. pdf scans) and/or cheap+convenient (e.g. dubious-quality $0.99 Amazon editions) to free+convenient also improves availability. The obscure work wins “most improved” and goes from having one reader/year to five readers/year. The well-known book goes from having 100 readers/year who are willing to deal with the .pdf or risk their dollar on an e-book to 500 readers/year who are willing to download our free e-book. Both projects are good, and we do work on some more obscure books. However, given our goal to increase the total amount of Church lit reading that goes on in the world, we’ll typically work on better-known books, hence the History of the Church. Anyways, look out for volume 2 in the next month or so.

Largest release ever: five new e-books

It was a productive summer, and my pace of writing official release posts for books has fallen behind volunteers’ pace of production. To catch up in one fell swoop, the following are now available on Project Gutenberg:

Rays of Living Light by Elder Charles W. Penrose is a collection of twelve pamphlets on basic doctrines of the gospel.

The Strength of the “Mormon” Position by Elder Orson F. Whitney is a 48-page pamphlet published by the missions of the Church in 1917.

Lydia Knight’s History by Susa Young Gates has a pretty self-explanatory title.

Gems for the Young Folksthe fourth book of the Faith-Promoting Series, is an anthology of missionary anecdotes and similar material.

Early Scenes in Church History, the eighth book of the Faith-Promoting Series, is a similar anthology.

I’d give more detail, but frankly I haven’t been able to read any of these yet. (Hazards of the pace we hit this summer.) Maybe in the future. Anyways, happy reading!

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New Release: “Gospel Philosophy,” on science vs. the gospel in 1884

“Gospel Philosphy, Showing the Absurdities of Infidelity, and the Harmony of the Gospel with Science and History” by J. H. Ward is now available on Project Gutenberg, including its original illustrations, thanks to the work of Samuel Shreeve, our Utah State University summer intern.  It’s a fascinating treatment of the conflict (or lack thereof) between science and religion, treating both the history of said conflict and its current state as of 1884. (Samuel is a physicist and I’m a mechanical engineer, so we both have some natural interest in this.)

The history is enlightening, the 19th century science is amusing, and the book as a whole shows the need for scientific humility and the ineffectiveness of contrasting science and religion. Ward teaches the need to recognize the uncertainties of science (which have changed surprisingly little):

It is worthy of notice that the uncertainties of science increase just in proportion to our interest in it. About what does not concern us, it is very positive; but very uncertain about our dearest interests. The astronomer may calculate with considerable certainty the movements of distant planets with which we have no intercourse; but he cannot predict the heat or cold, clouds or sunshine, and other phenomena continually occurring on our earth. The forces of heat may be measured, to some extent, but what physician can measure the strength of the malignant fever that is destroying the life of his patient. The chemist can thoroughly analyze any foreign substance, but the disease of his own body, which is bringing him to the grave, he can neither weigh, measure nor remove. Science is very positive about distant stars and remote ages, but stammers and hesitates about the very lives of its professors.

 

He also (partly by accident) shows the danger of taking scientific claims too seriously, regardless of their avowed certainty or supposed applicability to religion. In this, the book may be more illustrative now than when it was written. Now, we view the 19th century as scientifically backward; at the time (not unlike at present) everyone was quite impressed with the recent progress of science. For example, science had achieved a new understanding of the sun:

The latest discoveries in science tend rather to demonstrate that the sun’s light is but very faintly visible on his globe; and that there is no such thing as solar heat. What is popularly called so is only the heat caused by the friction of the waves of light passing through the atmosphere, or striking against the earth. “We approach the question of the sun’s inhabitability,” says Sir David Brewster, “with the certain knowledge that the sun is not a red hot globe, but that its nucleus is a solid, opaque mass, receiving very little light from its luminous atmosphere.”

Does this support the Bible or not? Either way, for all its avowed certainty, it’s since been proven horribly wrong. Will today’s science look any better in another 130 years? We’ve certainly learned a lot, but we’re still struggling with basic questions about the Creation–for example, it was discovered only in 1998 that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and we don’t understand why. Science is useful, valuable, enlightening, and entertaining, but regardless of which side you think you’re on, it isn’t a good sparring partner for religion–now, both sides of the 1884 debates too often look ridiculous.

This book’s value as an old perspective on a big contemporary issue is the main reason I read and would recommend it, but as a bonus, it also touches on dinosaurs (complete with engravings!), evolution, the age of the earth, prophecy, and more. At least flip through the online HTML version just for the engravings’ sake.