Friday, April 3, 2020

Chance to retool missionary approach

Now that most of the missionaries have been recalled to their homes of origin, there is an opportunity to retool the missionary program by trying a new approach.

We can look at the highly successful British Mission in 1840-1841 as an example (see below).

The table below compares the approach taken by the Apostles in the British Mission with the standard approach taken today in Church manuals, lessons, media presentations, visitors centers, magazines, etc.

As you consider these, realize that there is substantial extrinsic evidence to support both scenarios. You can find evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, linguistics, etc. to support whichever position you favor.

One happens to corroborate the prophets. The other happens to repudiate the prophets.

Which approach do you think would have more appeal? Which would generate more interest and bring more people to Christ?

British Mission 1840-1841
Joseph Smith translated ancient metal plates with the Urim and Thummim, an instrument created to enable prophets to translate ancient records and buried with the plates in the Hill Cumorah.
Joseph Smith didn’t really translate the plates but merely read words that appeared on a seer stone he found in a well. He didn’t even use the plates; they were covered with a cloth the whole time.
The Book of Mormon is an authentic history of real people who had the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Jaredite and Nephite nations fought final wars of extinction at the Hill Cumorah in western New York.
The Book of Mormon is an authentic history of real people, but we have no idea where they lived or who they were except that it was somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. All the prophets who taught that Cumorah was in New York were expressing their private, erroneous opinions.
The ancient mounds and burial sites in the midwestern United States are evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon (as stated by Joseph Smith).
The ancient mounds and burial sites in the midwestern United States have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. Instead, look to the stone pyramids of Mesoamerica.
The Indian tribes of the Northeastern U.S. are the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30, 32). As Joseph Smith wrote, “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.” (Wentworth letter)
Early Latter-day Saints believed the Indian tribes in the Northeastern U.S. were the Lamanites, but actually the Lamanites are descendants of Mayans in Mesoamerica (who have completely different DNA than the Indians in the Northeastern U.S.)

The Church reportedly has $100 billion in liquid investments (probably reduced to around $80 billion now). Imagine a well-funded, re-tooled missionary message that focused on the teachings of the prophets instead of the teachings of the scholars.

It's an interesting thought experiment, at least.

Lessons from the British Mission

Modern missionary work could learn some important lessons from the British Mission in the 1830s and 1840s.

Then, as today, the Book of Mormon is the key to conversion. It's the instrument the Lord prepared to gather scattered Israel.

The missionaries in England in the 1830s and 1840s encouraged investigators to consider physical evidence as well as to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Today, missionaries are told not to discuss, or even mention, physical evidence for the Book of Mormon. Investigators and the missionaries themselves are left wondering where all of these events took place.

Most investigators check the Internet. There, they learn four things:

1. DNA "disproves" the Book of Mormon (and the Gospel Topics DNA essay has little persuasive effect as a counter to the critics).

2. LDS scholars say the prophets and apostles have been wrong when they have taught that Cumorah is in New York.

3. LDS scholars generally agree the events occurred in Mesoamerica but strongly disagree about exactly where.

4. Non-LDS scholars see zero connection between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican civilizations.

Contrast this state of affairs with what the early Apostles did when they went to England.

Among other things, Parley P. Pratt published Oliver's historical letters in the Millennial Star, beginning with his second issue in June 1840. He published Letter VII in October 1840.

Not only was it a definite fact that Cumorah, the scene of the final battles, was in New York, but Pratt also editorialized about additional physical evidence. He explained, "If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils..."

Pratt mentioned physical evidence throughout North and South America. In our day, we have more detailed knowledge of these civilizations, including their DNA, and we see that what the Lord told us in D&C 28, 30, and 32--that the descendants of Lehi are the Indians living in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (where they had been relocated from the East)--fits the descriptions in the text in terms of anthropology, archaeology, geology and geography.

Now, let's compare the results of the two approaches to missionary work.

Brigham Young reported when he left in April 1841,

"We landed in the spring of 1840, as strangers in a strange land and penniless, but through the mercy of God we have gained many friends, established churches in almost every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain, baptized between seven and eight thousand, printed 5,000 Books of Mormon, 3,000 Hymn Books, 2,500 [copies] of the Millennial Star, and 50,000 tracts, and emigrated to Zion 1,000 souls."

Assuming his numbers were correct, 7,000-8,000 converts in a year when there were only about 16,000 members total means nearly one convert per every two members. In terms of converts as a percentage of membership, this is 50%.

It means more than one convert per copy of the Book of Mormon printed.

Today, there are over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon in print. There are nearly 16 million members, with around 300,000 converts per year. The chart below, from, is the conversion rate for the last few years, where it has declined from less than 5% to less than 2%.

Think of this. 50% vs 2%.

Obviously, when you have a smaller base, it's easier to grow at a rapid rate. We can't expect the success of the British Mission to continue today. We all know the challenges are different, etc.

Some things haven't changed. As in the British Mission, today's missionaries tell people to read the book, live the teachings, and pray about it.

But unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not going around telling people there was no evidence of the Book of Mormon. 

And unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not being taught before they left that the prophets and apostles were wrong about Cumorah in New York.

Instead, the British missionaries published and taught Letter VII. They encouraged people to consider the physical evidence.

And despite tremendous opposition, the missionaries in the British Mission succeeded in converting thousands of people, more than one for every Book of Mormon printed.

Printing numbers are irrelevant today when most people use electronic versions, but since more than 150 million physical copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed, a success rate comparable to the British Mission would have converted well over 150 million people.

Which is about what we should expect, given that we have the truth.

We all know there are myriad differences between 1840 England and the modern world in 2017, but those differences cut both ways. People may be more worldly and less religious, but communications are easier and there is far less opposition. Missionaries are free to travel and teach in most of the world, and the Internet gives additional access beyond that.

In fact, if the modern world is less religious and more skeptical than 1840 England, that's all the more reason to offer more evidence, not less.

We could start with a simple step.

Why not have missionaries teach the words of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah in New York? 

We may not have specific answers for the rest of the geography, but we have that pin in the map that takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of mystical fiction, where it exists today in the minds of most of the world (and even in the minds of many members of the Church, especially those being taught an "abstract" fantasy map at BYU).

Once we as members reach unity by believing the words of the prophets on the Cumorah issue, then we can work on the rest of the physical evidence. 

Maybe, having exercised faith in the words of the prophets, we'll be in a position for the Lord to assist us (a topic for another day).

Now, here is the background on the British Mission.

After the keys of the gathering of Israel were restored to the earth to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110), Joseph sent Parley P. Pratt to Toronto, promising that his work there would "lead to the introduction of the gospel into England." Among his converts were John Taylor and Joseph Fielding. In 1837, Joseph sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde to England. They returned home in April 1838, having converted about 1,500 people in England.

In Far West in April 1838, Joseph received a revelation that the twelve should return to England (D&C 118). Here's a summary of their work from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Departing in conditions of poverty and illness and trusting in the promises of God that all would be well with them and their families, most of the members of the Twelve made their way in various groups to Liverpool. By April 1840, they were together for the first time as a quorum in a foreign land. On April 14, 1840, in Preston, they ordained Willard Richards an apostle and sustained Brigham Young as "standing president" of their quorum. They held a general conference the next day in which they conducted Church business and further organized the mission. On the 16th they met again as a quorum and further planned their work. On the next day, they separated to various assigned geographical areas: Brigham Young and Willard Richards were to assist Wilford Woodruff with the work he had already begun among the United Brethren in Herefordshire; Heber C. Kimball was to return to the areas of his 1837-1838 missionary successes; Parley P. Pratt was to establish a mission home and publishing concern in Manchester; Orson Pratt was assigned to Scotland, where the work had already begun; John Taylor was to go to Liverpool, Ireland, and the Isle of Man; and George A. Smith was assigned to the area of the Staffordshire potteries. In time, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith would extend their work to London.

As a result of this mission, an additional 4,000 converts joined the Church by 1841.

I bolded Parley Pratt because he started the Millennial Star. The first issue was published in May 1840. Beginning with the second issue, Elder Pratt reprinted Oliver's eight historical letters as a continuing series under the title "A Remarkable Vision."

Letter VII was published in volume 6, October 1840. We can't tell how much of a role the letters played in the success of the mission, but popular demand for the letters led to them being printed in a special pamphlet in 1844. The introduction says, "We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery..." Thousands of copies were printed.

You can read the pamphlet here.

You can read the Millennial Star on google books here.

It's interesting that Elder Pratt offered evidence to support the Book of Mormon. In addition to Oliver's letters, he made comments such as this one on p. 117, after quoting 3 Nephi 10.

If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils, &c. &c. which are the product of some ancient race, who inhabited that land, and who had risen to a high state of refinement in the arts and sciences, as the relics of their labours prove—as they now lie scattered over a vast extent of North and South America, either on the surface, or buried beneath by the convulsions of nature, or the visitations of the Most High, as recorded in the fore-going extract; and which are frequently discovered and brought to light by antiquarian travellers.

Pratt followed those comments with an article about the travels of Stephens and Catherwood in Central America. Then he wrote, "For further testimony and proof positive of the Book of Mormon, we copy the following [the Testimony of Three Witnesses].

My take on all of this is that Elder Pratt accepted and endorsed Oliver's letters, including Letter VII. There was no question that Cumorah was in New York. Pratt suggested that ruins through the entire Western hemisphere were evidence to support the Book of Mormon, but he proposed it in a generalized way.

There is a definite contrast between the specificity of Letter VII, based as it was on the personal experience of Joseph and Oliver in Mormon's depository of Nephite records, and the generalized claim that evidence of advanced civilizations in ancient North and South America. Here are some of the excerpts from Letter VII as published in the 1840 Millennial Star.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

200 years ago: March 26, 1820 and 1830 - First Vision and Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon

Today, March 26, is a significant anniversary in Church history because it was the date of the first notice of the publication and availability of the Book of Mormon. I blogged about that here:

First Vision

It's also a significant date because the best evidence indicates that this was also the date of the First Vision. This article by John C. Lefgren summarizes the evidence.

There is a wonderful video of the evidence here:

And their web page is here:

If you're not already familiar with this project, today is a good day to learn about it.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

changing minds--political example

We all know how difficult it is to change our minds because few of us ever change our minds. Ideally, better information leads to better opinions, but that's rarely the case in the real world.

Most people stick with what they're comfortable with and what suits their lifestyle choices. Regarding the Book of Mormon, M2C is a "safe" belief because when challenged, M2C believers can refer to the plentiful books, videos, web pages, etc. that justify and rationalize M2C.

Of course, for most people in the world, M2C is absurd. Five minutes of investigation shows that the Book of Mormon narrative doesn't fit Mayan culture, and vice versa. Faithful LDS who know and believe what the prophets have taught soon reach the conclusion that M2C is a hoax based on a mistake in Church history.

However, M2C works for many LDS because they don't know what the prophets have taught and they are unaware of the evidence that supports those teachings. Employees and followers of the M2C citation cartel engage in bias confirmation to perpetuate M2C.

Which is all perfectly fine so long as it works for them.

But it's a serious problem for missionary work and retention.

A recent article in the Wall St. Journal discusses the effectiveness of campaigns in changing the minds of voters. There are some similarities that are worth considering.

From the Wall St. Journal:

Do Political Campaigns Change Voters’ Minds?

Why are people so hard to persuade? And does this mean that we are so hopelessly pigheaded that all efforts at changing our minds are wasted?
When we encounter a message that challenges our views—like being asked to vote for a candidate we don’t already favor—our first reaction is usually to reject it. We change our minds only if we are provided with good arguments, ideally in the context of a discussion and from a source we perceive as competent and trustworthy. Gaining voters’ trust or engaging them in proper discussion is very hard to do en masse, which is why large-scale persuasion nearly invariably fails to convince us.
When provided with the right reasons by the right people, however, we do change our minds. Profs. Broockman and Kalla found this sweet spot in a 2016 study published in the journal Science, in which canvassers engaged people in a 10-minute conversation on transgender rights. They offered information and arguments and asked the voters to remember a time when they had been “judged negatively for being different,” so that they could better understand the plight of transgender people. This intervention reduced prejudice, and the changes seem to have been genuine, as they were still present three months later.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Enough and to spare

29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.

30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
(Alma 1:29–30)

17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
(Doctrine and Covenants 104:17)

Things just keep getting better.

The best Christmas present to humanity, ever: We’ve Just Had The Best Decade In Human History

by Matt Ridley
Let nobody tell you that the second decade of the 21st century has been a bad time. We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.
Little of this made the news, because good news is no news. But I’ve been watching it all closely. Ever since I wrote The Rational Optimist in 2010, I’ve been faced with ‘what about…’ questions: what about the great recession, the euro crisis, Syria, Ukraine, Donald Trump? How can I possibly say that things are getting better, given all that? The answer is: because bad things happen while the world still gets better. Yet get better it does, and it has done so over the course of this decade at a rate that has astonished even starry-eyed me.
Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.
This does not quite fit with what the Extinction Rebellion lot are telling us. But the next time you hear Sir David Attenborough say: ‘Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist’, ask him this: ‘But what if economic growth means using less stuff, not more?’ For example, a normal drink can today contains 13 grams of aluminium, much of it recycled. In 1959, it contained 85 grams. Substituting the former for the latter is a contribution to economic growth, but it reduces the resources consumed per drink.
As for Britain, our consumption of ‘stuff’ probably peaked around the turn of the century — an achievement that has gone almost entirely unnoticed. But the evidence is there. In 2011 Chris Goodall, an investor in electric vehicles, published research showing that the UK was now using not just relatively less ‘stuff’ every year, but absolutely less. Events have since vindicated his thesis. The quantity of all resources consumed per person in Britain (domestic extraction of biomass, metals, minerals and fossil fuels, plus imports minus exports) fell by a third between 2000 and 2017, from 12.5 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes. That’s a faster decline than the increase in the number of people, so it means fewer resources consumed overall.
If this doesn’t seem to make sense, then think about your own home. Mobile phones have the computing power of room-sized computers of the 1970s. I use mine instead of a camera, radio, torch, compass, map, calendar, watch, CD player, newspaper and pack of cards. LED light bulbs consume about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs for the same light. Modern buildings generally contain less steel and more of it is recycled. Offices are not yet paperless, but they use much less paper.
Even in cases when the use of stuff is not falling, it is rising more slowly than expected. For instance, experts in the 1970s forecast how much water the world would consume in the year 2000. In fact, the total usage that year was half as much as predicted. Not because there were fewer humans, but because human inventiveness allowed more efficient irrigation for agriculture, the biggest user of water.
Until recently, most economists assumed that these improvements were almost always in vain, because of rebound effects: if you cut the cost of something, people would just use more of it. Make lights less energy-hungry and people leave them on for longer. This is known as the Jevons paradox, after the 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons, who first described it. But Andrew McAfee argues that the Jevons paradox doesn’t hold up. Suppose you switch from incandescent to LED bulbs in your house and save about three-quarters of your electricity bill for lighting. You might leave more lights on for longer, but surely not four times as long.
Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.
Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that Britain is using steadily less energy. John Constable of the Global Warming Policy Forum points out that although the UK’s economy has almost trebled in size since 1970, and our population is up by 20 per cent, total primary inland energy consumption has actually fallen by almost 10 per cent. Much of that decline has happened in recent years. This is not necessarily good news, Constable argues: although the improving energy efficiency of light bulbs, aeroplanes and cars is part of the story, it also means we are importing more embedded energy in products, having driven much of our steel, aluminium and chemical industries abroad with some of the highest energy prices for industry in the world.
In fact, all this energy-saving might cause problems. Innovation requires experiments (most of which fail). Experiments require energy. So cheap energy is crucial — as shown by the industrial revolution. Thus, energy may be the one resource that a prospering population should be using more of. Fortunately, it is now possible that nuclear fusion will one day deliver energy in minimalist form, using very little fuel and land.
Since its inception, the environmental movement has been obsessed by finite resources. The two books that kicked off the green industry in the early 1970s, The Limits to Growth in America and Blueprint for Survival in Britain, both lamented the imminent exhaustion of metals, minerals and fuels. The Limits to Growth predicted that if growth continued, the world would run out of gold, mercury, silver, tin, zinc, copper and lead well before 2000. School textbooks soon echoed these claims.
This caused the economist Julian Simon to challenge the ecologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet that a basket of five metals (chosen by Ehrlich) would cost less in 1990 than in 1980. The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, Simon said, arguing that we would find substitutes if metals grew scarce. Simon won the bet easily, although Ehrlich wrote the cheque with reluctance, sniping that ‘the one thing we’ll never run out of is imbeciles’. To this day none of those metals has significantly risen in price or fallen in volume of reserves, let alone run out. (One of my treasured possessions is the Julian Simon award I won in 2012, made from the five metals.)
A modern irony is that many green policies advocated now would actually reverse the trend towards using less stuff.

Originally published 12/19/19 by Matt Ridley, in The Spectator

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Subjective reality and CES

I've had a fascinating conversation with a long-time CES employee (30+ years) who I deeply admire and respect. It contributed to my thinking about the nature of reality and the feasibility of consensus on M2C and related topics.

At this point, I'm hopeful that everyone can reach consensus on at least this point: continuing to censor the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah is unwise.

Long-time readers know that I'm interested in the psychology of beliefs. By now it is apparent that we are all dealing with subjective interpretations of reality.

Many people approach controversial issues on a sort of team or tribal basis. We join a team and adopt its beliefs by conforming our own worldview to align with the team. We use various filters to make this happen. Then we think our team sees reality correctly, while the other team see is wrongly.

The difference in subjective reality leads people to think that others who disagree with them are stupid, uninformed, crazy, or lying.

Instead, in most cases the other team is honestly trying to interpret reality. They just perceive a different version. It's a difference in perception, the product of different filters.

Both sides can be equally sane, intelligent, educated, informed, and honest. They literally perceive a different subjective reality.

In such cases, debating doesn't make sense because we're not debating the same reality. Even when we use the same language, the same terms, the same facts, we don't see the same reality so we cannot have a meaningful debate.

Unless we're willing and able to apply the other team's filters, at least temporarily, the best we can do is agree to disagree.

The worst we can do is insist our own view is the only "true" reality and use coercion, resources, power, etc., to to enforce our view through censorship, obfuscation, and misdirection.

One project I'm working on examines the origins of perception. I've written about imprinting, and my latest work delves into that topic in more detail.

For now, I'll just discuss how this implicates any effort to achieve consensus about Book of Mormon historicity.

My CES friend was involved with teaching, training, and curriculum at several locations. He (I won't identify him beyond that) visited Central America "Book of Mormon" lands several times as part of his job. He believes the two-Cumorahs theory, accepts John Sorenson's conclusions about Mesoamerica, etc.

He said he never taught any specific location for the Book of Mormon, but he did use the CES "hourglass" map that is in the CES lesson manuals. He never thought much about it because he assumed the Book of Mormon events took place somewhere in Mesoamerica and the map was close enough.

He was unaware of Letter VII. (This did not surprise me; I've never met a CES employee who knew about Letter VII. Surely some exist, but it is definitely not part of their training.) 

Given my well-educated, experienced friend's ignorance of Letter VII, it's no wonder that the youth in the Church never learn what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah unless they study on their own. CES, BYU, and Church curriculum have completely de-correlated the New York Cumorah.

As we discussed the issue, my friend explained that CES exists to facilitate spiritual conversion. Its purpose is not to answer questions outside the curriculum. (He had never heard of the CES Letter, Mormon Stories, or similar groups.)

Because of this specific mission, he thought CES would never delve into questions of geography, or translation of the Book of Mormon, or other similar controversial topics. I asked if the CES approach was sustainable. He said it was a good question. Over the years, many former students contacted him to assure him they were still reading their scriptures and still active, but he said he probably wouldn't have heard from students who were no longer faithful in the Church and he didn't have any statistics on how effective CES is, how many students remain in the Church, etc. He was satisfied with the anecdotal evidence from his own experience.

During our conversation, he said he could see how the CES map was imprinting a particular interpretation of the text onto the minds of the students. He had never questioned this because he always assumed that the "hourglass" interpretation was correct and had never heard of an alternative interpretation. He could see the conflict between the CES map and the teachings of the prophets once I told him about those teachings. However, he didn't think this was a serious problem because once people get a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon, issues of extrinsic evidence no longer matter.

This is a brief summary, of course, but the conversation provided insights into the "two movies on one screen" problem in the Church and in the world overall.

As we concluded the conversation, it became apparent to me that my friend and his fellow employees at CES are doing the right thing for any youth who have the gift of great faith (one of the gifts Moroni lists in Moroni 10). Active members of the Church generally have this gift, which is why so many say extrinsic evidence doesn't matter.

And that's awesome. Good for them. Really.

But it's exactly the same approach taken by most people in the world. For most people, facts don't matter when it comes to their beliefs.

That reality raises two questions.

1. How common is it for people to retain religious belief regardless of, and even in spite of, extrinsic evidence? I'm interested in this because so many people claim extrinsic evidence contradicts the claims of the Church, but close examination shows it is their own expectations that create the contradiction.

2. What about those who have other gifts of the Spirit?

1. Faith and extrinsic evidence. Implicit faith is ubiquitous. I've encountered people all around the world, in all different cultures and religions, who have implicit faith in their political, scientific and religious beliefs. They rationalize their beliefs through bias confirmation and avoid or mitigate cognitive dissonance by filtering evidence. It's basic psychology.

That's why conversion to another religion is relatively rare, as most LDS missionaries know. That's what makes political agreement so difficult. The same psychology produces stark differences on scientific issues such as climate change, evolution, and much more.

(In France, we taught about the apostasy and restoration all we wanted, but people didn't care, either because they had implicit faith in the Catholic Church or because they didn't accept the premise of religion in the first place.)

There will always be some people who adhere to their beliefs regardless of logic, facts, or reason. There's nothing wrong with that, either; it's the human condition and has a sound basis in both psychology and pragmatism. People of all faiths and no faith apply the same system to justify their chosen beliefs.

Ultimately, in terms of staying alive and having a good life, it doesn't really matter that much what anyone believes, so long as they can abide by the laws of the land and the rules of interpersonal relationships.

How it matters theologically is a topic for another day. But even within the Church, the basis for belief for many members is akin to, if not identical to, the basis for belief for people in other religions, as well as people with no religion. People just choose to believe what they want to believe and rationalize it however they want.

In this sense, M2C is not a problem at all, as my CES friend said. Many faithful members of the Church see no problem rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah because, in their view, those teachings are not core teachings.

That makes sense logically, and that's why it doesn't matter what you believe if it works for you.

But there are many whose faith is undermined by M2C, and it's for them that I offer an alternative evidence-based approach (Moroni's America) that makes more sense to me.

IOW, it's not M2C or bust.

And that's why I so strongly oppose the censorship tactics of Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and other M2C-promoting groups. In my view, they have erected arbitrary barriers to faith.

2. Other gifts of the Spirit. Moroni 10:5 says "By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." Many have interpreted that verse to mean a "spiritual witness," but Moroni goes on to explain that "there are different ways that these gifts are administered," referring to the "manifestations of the Spirit of God." lists many gifts of the Spirit.

I think this is a profound explanation of the differences in the way we each perceive reality.

Those who have a gift of "great faith" may not understand those who have a gift of "knowledge" and vice versa. Some people--probably most people--need a basis for faith before they can exercise faith.

That is a major reason why the Savior performed miracles, for example. He did not go around telling people to believe him because everyone else was wrong. True, his teachings were profound and touched people's hearts, but that's also true of religious leaders of every faith; otherwise no one would believe them. The authors of the New Testament emphasized the miracles because these provided extrinsic evidence that facilitated faith.

I think that's exactly what Oliver and Joseph did when they wrote the 8 essays on Church history, including Letter VII. They refuted the argument that the Book of Mormon was fiction by specifying exactly where key events in the narrative took place. This extrinsic evidence was highly important for people to accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It was so important that Letter VII was republished in every Church magazine during Joseph's life.

But now our M2C intellectuals have taken away this extrinsic evidence and replaced it with a mythological, unknown setting that many, including me, find unbelievable.

Let's just say that Letter VII provides a viable, evidence-based alternative to M2C that people should at least be informed about.

I won't get into it all except for verse 18, in which Moroni sums it up: "And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ."

The teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, including but not limited to Letter VII, are a good gift.

When our M2C intellectuals accept at least that premise, we can reach consensus that continuing their practice of censorship needs to cease.

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.