Sunday, September 29, 2019

The path to consensus

The path to consensus is simply tolerance. People can believe whatever they want without affecting your beliefs.

When we all make informed decisions, we can all live with everyone's choice and move forward together, even when we made different informed decisions.

This chart shows two paths. Which one you follow is your choice, not someone else's. I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong. They simply reflect two different priorities, two different perspectives, two different approaches, etc.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

How art affects missionary work

I'm reposting some of the most popular posts in the blog for new readers. This one was originally posted on August 24, 2016. I've edited it a little. The post is especially important now that ScripturePlus, the new app from Book of Mormon Central, is explicitly teaching M2C.

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but in this post I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official missionary edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. Far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. We can reasonably assume that 100 people look at the pictures for every one person who actually starts reading the book. Probably 1,000 people look at the pictures for every person who reads the entire text. 

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text, they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Arnold Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography Mesoamerican/two-Cumorah model (M2C) that modern scholars support. 

For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

It is time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at as I write this post.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it accommodates the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I will assume the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. 

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. The text only describes one visit, but it alludes to other visits, so this seems okay.

The big problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? 

When I read about Cumorah in Mormon 6:6, I'll naturally wonder where that hill is. If I ask the missionaries, they'll tell me they don't know where it is. That seems bizarre, to say the least. If I search the Internet, I'll quickly discover that Church leaders through the 1970s taught that it was a fact that the Hill Cumorah was in western New York. It was the same hill where Moroni buried the plates. 

So why can't the missionaries answer the question?

Because intellectuals in the Church have decided Church leaders were wrong about the New York Cumorah. They claim there are "two Cumorahs." The hill in New York, they say, was falsely named Cumorah by early Church members. They say the accounts of Moroni calling the hill Cumorah were false, that Joseph and Oliver never actually visited the depository of Nephite records inside the New York hill, etc.

These intellectuals have persuaded many members and leaders in the Church today that previous Church leaders (including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) were wrong. Now we're at the point where hardly anyone wants to re-affirm or even support the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. 

Instead, we have an anonymous Gospel Topics Essay that says the Church takes "no position" on any aspect of Book of Mormon geography.

My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How to avoid debate

Here's another observation about consensus:

"Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled." - Michael Crichton, “‘Aliens Cause Global Warming.’” Wall Street Journal. 7 Nov. 2008.

Crichton died before Book of Mormon Central began, and probably didn't know much (or care) about the Cumorah issues, but he aptly described the approach of the M2C citation cartel, part of the De-correlation Department.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why we believe alternative facts

Motivated reasoning drives most of our beliefs, according to this article:

"Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition," says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. "People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe."

Motivated and the "expertise paradox" account for much of what we see happening in terms of M2C and the peep stone-in-a-hat theory.

The article explains this quite well.

The more you know

People often dismiss those who hold opposing views as idiots (or worse). Yet highly educated people are just as likely to make biased judgments—and they might actually do it more often.
In one example of this "expertise paradox," Kahan and colleagues asked volunteers to analyze a small data set. First, they showed data that purportedly demonstrated the effectiveness of a cream for treating skin rash. Unsurprisingly, people who had a greater ability to use quantitative information did better at analyzing the data.
But there was a twist. When participants saw the very same numbers, but were told they came from a study of a gun-control ban, their political views affected how accurately they interpreted the results. And those who were more quantitatively skilled actually showed the most polarized responses. In other words, expertise magnified the tendency to engage in politically motivated reasoning (Behavioural Public Policy, in press). 
"As people become more proficient in critical reasoning, they become more vehement about the alignment of the facts with their group's position," Kahan says.
The pattern holds up outside the lab as well. In a national survey, Kahan and colleagues found that overall, people who were more scientifically literate were slightly less likely to see climate change as a serious threat. And the more they knew, the more polarized they were: Conservatives became more dismissive of climate change evidence, and liberals became more concerned about the evidence, as science literacy and quantitative skills increased (Nature Climate Change, 2012).
"It's almost as though the sophisticated approach to science gives people more tools to curate their own sense of reality," says Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland who studies the processes that influence people to accept or reject scientific messages.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Why facts don't change our minds

For those who wonder why M2C continues to be taught, consider these two sentences:

We don't always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.

There are few more obvious examples than M2C. Employees at Book of Mormon Central, for example, are unusually concerned with what their bosses and mentors think. 

The two lines in that quotation come from a wonderful essay that explains a fascinating aspect of human nature: People like to think their opinions are based on facts, but that is not the case.

The essay is found here:

Here are two fun quotations from the essay:

The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”
Leo Tolstoy was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Monday, August 5, 2019

M2C: Fixation subset of bias confirmation

I've written a lot about M2C and bias confirmation because that's an easy paradigm for people to understand. People experience bias confirmation all the time.

The challenge is recognizing it in ourselves.

But actually, the term bias confirmation includes several elements that are useful and important.

A relevant article  in Psychology Today pointed out that bias confirmation "can refer to the following tendencies:  

•      Search: to search only for confirming evidence (Wason’s original definition)

•      Preference: to prefer evidence that supports our beliefs

•      Recall: to best remember information in keeping with our beliefs

•      Interpretation: to interpret evidence in a way that supports our beliefs

•      Framing: to use mistaken beliefs to misunderstand what is happening in a situation

•      Testing: to ignore opportunities to test our beliefs

•      Discarding: to explain away data that don’t fit with our beliefs"

What we really need to watch out for is fixation, a term that encompasses the last three tendencies.

The topic is explored very effectively by Dr. Gary Klein here:

The concept of fixation is that we get stuck on an initial explanation. Often, that initial explanation will be accurate but when it is wrong, with hindsight we can see that we held on to it too long. 

In my view, M2C persists because of fixation; M2C intellectuals got stuck on an initial explanation (M2C) and, with hindsight, we can see that we held onto it for too long. 

Of course, the M2C intellectuals reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah on the same rationale. 

That's why it's up to each individual to make an informed decision.

And that's why the ongoing censorship by Book of Mormon Central is so pernicious.

But fixation errors aren’t just holding onto our initial explanation too long—fixation gets compounded when we dismiss any anomalous evidence that runs counter to our original diagnosis instead of taking these anomalies into account and revising our beliefs. DeKeyser and Woods (1990) speculated about some ways that fixation works, and Feltovich et al. (2001) called these tactics, “knowledge shields” that we use to deflect contrary data.

These six knowledge shields are pervasive in the literature of the M2C citation cartel.

Chinn & Brewer (1993) listed six basic ways that knowledge shields can operate, ways that we can react to anomalous data that are inconsistent with our beliefs: 

(i) we can ignore the data; 

(ii) we can reject the data by finding some flaw or weakness in the way the data were collected or analyzed or even speculate that the data reflected a random occurrence; 

(iii) we can decide that the data don’t really apply to the phenomenon of interest; 

(iv) we can set the data aside for the present in the expectation that future developments will show why the anomaly is not really a problem 

(v) we can find a way to interpret the data that allows us to preserve our beliefs; 

(vi) we can make cosmetic changes to our beliefs and fool ourselves into thinking that we have taken the data into account. 

Chinn and Brewer found that college students displayed each of these tactics and so did established scientists. Chinn and Brewer also listed a seventh type of reaction—we can accept the data and change or discard our initial beliefs.

This seventh reaction is the one I eventually used to discard my belief in M2C. I'll explain in upcoming posts.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Reality is subjective

In a sense, it would be great if everyone reached a consensus about Book of Mormon geography and historicity, but because reality is subjective, it will probably never happen.

Whatever our beliefs, our personal realities can work for us. The key is finding a reality that does work.

Scott Adams (Dilbert) discusses how reality is subjective.

He said, "God is what is left over once you take everything away." Good description of how our individual subjective realities all work, even when we all believe something different. Everyone can live together even when they have different worldviews. Plus, once you realize reality is subjective, you can control it. That's how you escape the matrix, etc. You control your reality, and your reality is complete. Put systems in place to create the reality you want.

Reality can be interpreted in a completely different way and still work. You can understand reality through a different filter and it works as well as the one you looked through before. The lesson is they both work.

Start at 43:00


The other related item is simulation theory. Here's a good intro.