Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
by Jon Krakauer
New York: Anchor Books, 2004, 365 pp., $14.95, paperback.
All religious belief is a function of nonrational faith. And faith, by its very definition, tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism...Those who would assail The Book of Mormon should bear in mind that its veracity is no more dubious than the veracity of the Bible, say, or the Qur'an, or the sacred texts of most other religions. The latter texts simply enjoy the considerable advantage of having made their public debut in the shadowy recesses of the past, and are thus much harder to refute. Apparently Krakauer has not researched the veracity of the Bible to any serious degree, for to put it on a level with The Book of Mormon is to ignore centuries of scholarship. Archaeologists who use The Book of Mormon as a guide are doomed to endless frustration, but the Bible has been proven to be historically accurate time and time again. For example, the discovery of 26,000 tablets in the palace of an Assyrian king show that the Jewish Scriptures are consistent with the Assyrian records. Examples of New Testament verification include the discovery of an inscription referencing Gallio, proconsul of Achaea. Luke had described him with that title in Acts 18:12-17, but many scholars were skeptical before archaeology revealed the Bible's accuracy. Numerous other examples could be cited, but Mormon scholars have to strain to find any connections to reality at all.
Then, in a fascinating digression, he used as an example his own upbringing in a conservative Protestant family that adhered to the teachings of Archbishop James Usher (sic), the Irish theologian who came to prominence in the seventeenth century. His family's beliefs, Gardner explained to the court, were "somewhat fundamentalist, not Mormon." Although his father was an intelligent and very well-read physician, "a highly respected person and scientist in the community," he raised his children to believe "the world was created in six literal days, 6,000 years ago..." The oft-maligned Ussher was a brilliant historian who received his master's degree at age 18 and was respected enough to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His unforgiveable sin was to believe in a young earth, which according to his calculations was created in 4004 B.C. That date has been the subject of ridicule for centuries by men incapable of writing a single page of the 1,600 found in Annals of the World, Ussher's incredible magnum opus that was recently republished in English (the original was in Latin).
The archaeological and geological evidence indicating the earth was many millions of years old was simply "a deception of Satan," intended to fool the gullible.Very few people would be convinced by the argument that the evidence is a deception of Satan. Rather, the point must be made that the evidence portrays actual history, but the interpretation of that evidence is where the dispute lies. An old-earth evolutionist sees millions of fossils in sedimentary rock and sees layers laid down over millions of years, while a young earth creationist sees the same fossils and layers, but proposes that they were laid down in less than a year during a global flood. The data remain the same, but the presuppositions brought to the data drastically impact the resulting interpretation.
His father's stubborn belief that the world was created six thousands years ago, in just six days, was "a pretty irrational idea," Gardner testified. 
I don't know if God even exists, although I confess that I sometimes find myself praying in times of great fear, or despair, or astonishment at a display of unexpected beauty...None of the ten thousand (religious sects) has yet persuaded me to make the requisite leap of faith...And if I remain in the dark about our purpose here, and the meaning of eternity, I have nevertheless arrived at an understanding of a few more modest truths: Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why--which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And we will no doubt feel that ache, most of us, for as long as we happen to be alive. On that poignant note, the book ends. As Blaise Pascal wrote during the time of James Ussher, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart." My prayer is that Mr. Krakauer will come to know the love of his creator, for replacing the empty ache--the God-shaped vacuum--with assurance grants one serenity in the difficult times, and gladness in the good times.