Friday, September 22, 2017

Book of Mormon Day - Facts lead to consensus

I think the best way for all LDS people, scholars as well as non-scholars, to reach a consensus is to agree on basic facts from Church history. To accomplish this, I propose a short reading assignment. On Book of Mormon day, I propose that everyone read Letters IV, VII, and VIII. The links are at the end of this post.

It was 190 years ago today when Joseph Smith obtained the Harmony plates from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

He had waited four years for this moment.

In 1823, Joseph had seen the plates, but he was not yet prepared to take them and begin the translation.

The night before, on September 21st, 1823, Moroni visited Joseph. Oliver Cowdery gave us the most detailed account of the visit. Joseph was praying after the rest of his family had fallen asleep.

Oliver wrote this in Letter IV:

"In this situation hours passed unnumbered-how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.-

"While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.-

"Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire....

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."

Notice that Moroni told Joseph the history was written and deposited not far from Joseph's home. That means Mormon and Moroni were not far from Joseph's home when they abridged the Nephite records.

This makes sense because they were abridging the Nephite records, which were stored in the depository in New York, first in the hill Shim, and later in the hill Cumorah.

If you ask the unbelievers at FairMormon, of course, Oliver was wrong about Cumorah. But since Oliver got his information directly from Joseph, as the above quotations demonstrate, then Joseph was wrong. Or maybe Joseph misheard what Moroni said? 

Is that what FairMormon wants us to believe?

Or maybe now FairMormon wants us to believe that Moroni was wrong?

FairMormon doesn't want members of the Church to know what Oliver and Joseph taught about Cumorah in New York because it contradicts their two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican dogma. 

Fortunately, members of the Church now have access to the original documents. We can all read these historical letters for ourselves, right out of Joseph's own history.

On this Book of Mormon day, I hope everyone reads Letters IV, VII, and VIII.

Here are the links:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Experts won't change their minds, but will you?

When there's a difference of opinions in a group, reaching consensus requires that one, some or all members of a group change those opinions.

Reaching consensus is difficult because changing one's opinion is so difficult. It's one of the most greatest psychological challenges humans face. It seems especially difficult for people who consider themselves experts.

Facts are largely irrelevant because people don't base their opinions on facts in the first place. Instead, we form opinions for social and psychological reasons.

I appeal to everyone interested in Book of Mormon geography to set aside the social and psychological factors and consider the long-term implications of whatever you believe.

I've called this the 3D or 3 dimensional approach because too much of the discussion has focused on two-dimensional semantics, thereby skirting the fundamental issue of whether or not we support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver so clearly taught.

I expect my appeal to be rejected by the main promoters of the Mesoamerican theory, the unbelieving experts at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest, but I hope other members of the Church who have been influenced by these experts can reconsider their opinions openly and as objectively as possible.

One of the most common questions people ask me is why the "BYU experts" won't look at the evidence. I frequently hear from readers that they've asked the experts questions, only to be rebuffed and dismissed. Our LDS scholars and educators, by and large, refuse to engage with the discussion about Cumorah for basic psychological reasons that are well known.

It's the same reason why they won't ever allow a straightforward comparison of their Mesoamerican ideology with what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah, let alone with what I call Moroni's America.

I could write an entire book about the psychological issues involved. In fact, I did. It's called Mesomania. But that was a preliminary analysis, a brief overview, at best. There is a lot more going on here.

In this post, I'll touch on the "illusion of explanatory depth" and then propose a solution.

Here is an extract from an overview of some of the research in this area:

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. ... 

We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. 

[FWIW, I don't subscribe to this type of evolutionary psychology, but I'll save that discussion for another time.]

So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

If pressed about Cumorah, our LDS scholars and educators will explain (usually condescendingly) that the "real Cumorah" cannot be in New York because there are no volcanoes there and there is no evidence of millions of people living there, or of massive warfare on the hill. You will see this at FairMormon, for example.

This is a textbook case of the "illusion of explanatory depth." These explanations are based on false assumptions that have acquired an aura of "knowledge" because they were incorporated into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and from there infiltrated Church media and curriculum. 

But as I've noted in hundreds of blog posts by now, the "explanation" is illusory.

There are no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon.

The text does not claim there were millions of people living around Cumorah.

And the final battles involved a few thousand people, not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands.

This is why our LDS experts and educators cannot engage on the facts. They think they have an explanation, but it is an illusion, borrowed from someone else, passed on from one generation to the next, mainly through BYU and CES.

The article continues:

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration. 

[Note: I think the author of this article (but not the original studies) suffers from the very illusion of explanatory depth she writes about. The Trump Administration is forcing people across the spectrum to re-evaluate their opinions, and none of them like it, including this author, because they are realizing their opinions are not fact-based but are Groupthink that is driven by political agendas. This unintended irony doesn't detract from the article's main point about the psychology of changing opinions; instead, it's a great example of it.]

This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. 

In my opinion, the "community of knowledge" created by LDS scholars and educators who promote Mesoamerica has become dangerous to the faith of members of the Church, just as Joseph Fielding Smith said it would.

The article continues:

Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

This is where I think we would see a huge difference. If our LDS scholars and educators thought through the implications of their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught, I think we could shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people's opinions about Book of Mormon geography.

Now, what is the solution?

Yesterday in Sunday School in the Manhattan Ward, we had an outstanding lesson about Church history. D&C 107 specifies that three quorums are "equal in authority" to one another: The Presidency of the Church (now called the First Presidency), which consists of 3 members; the Quorum of the 12; and the Seventy.

Verse 27 provides: "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—"

As the numbers increase in any group, it is more difficult to get a unanimous decision. The First Presidency can reach a unanimous decision faster than the Quorum of the Twelve, which can reach a unanimous decision faster than an entire Quorum of the Seventy. Not that speed is the priority, but it's a practical reality in a fast-changing world.

So how do these groups of strong-willed, smart, and experienced people reach a consensus?

The revelation continues:

"30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

"31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord."

I think everyone involved with Book of Mormon geography would reach a consensus at least about the New York Cumorah if we could somehow follow the directions the Lord gave us in D&C 107. But that cannot happen when people are already convinced, because of the "illusion of explanatory depth," that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about Cumorah.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

25th anniversary of disaster

When we look around and see the lack of consensus about Book of Mormon geography, there are a few key inflection points that have put us on the course we're on today; i.e., rifts among LDS scholars and educators and confusion among members of the Church and investigators.

A major inflection point occurred in 1992, when one of the biggest disasters in Book of Mormon studies was published. That makes this year, 2017, the 25th anniversary.

For 25 years now, members of the Church--almost an entire generation--have been taught a fundamentally flawed concept about the Book of Mormon.

I'm referring, of course, to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (EOM) and its infamous article about Cumorah.

You can read it here.

It contains this unbelievably self-serving and misleading paragraph (with my comments in red):

"This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. [Of course, it was the two men who actually visited Mormon's depository inside the New York Cumorah--Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery--who declared it was a fact that this was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. It was anything but an "assumption." Yet this article in EOM doesn't even mention Letter VII.]

"Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, [the New York hill exactly fits the description in the text. What neither New York nor the text fits is the Mesomerican setting, with its jungles, jade, jaguars, and Mayan temples. Not to mention volcanoes. To avoid the obvious problems with Mesoamerica, Brother Palmer and like-minded LDS scholars and educators concocted a set of "requirements" for Cumorah that are not based on the text but are designed to limit the comical search for Cumorah to Mesoamerica.]

"Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. [See? Instead of believing Joseph and Oliver, these LDS scholars and educators look anywhere but New York.] 

"Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested."

Brother Palmer, of course, cites his own book, In Search of Cumorah, to justify the assertion that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were, let's say, "mistaken" about the actual location of the real Cumorah.

Ever since, our LDS scholars and educators have referred to this article to support their teaching of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

This article was a major inflection point that has led to the ongoing confusion and problems that Mesomania have caused.

But fortunately, inflection points not only cause diversions; they can also enable course corrections.

In our day, there is another inflection point: the rediscovery of Letter VII and its context, including how often Joseph Smith endorsed it after it was published.

If we can only persuade LDS scholars and educators to take this opportunity to change course and return to what Joseph and Oliver (and all their contemporaries and successors) taught, we'll get back on course and eventually repair the damage caused by the 1992 disaster.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why we seek consensus

The reason for this blog is to encourage all LDS scholars and educators to agree on a simple point; i.e., that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

Such a consensus is critical for many reasons, but the most important is unity and harmony in the Church. A big component of that is eliminating the confusion caused by theories of Book of Mormon geography that rely on the premise that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about the New York Cumorah. This is a serious problem for missionaries, investigators, and members of the Church generally.

Semantic debates about what is a "narrow neck of land" and where such a feature may be located detract from the larger issues of how our acceptance or rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Book of Mormon affects our ability to encourage others to read and study the Book of Mormon.

Here are more reasons why I think this consensus is important.

1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery unambiguously declared that Cumorah was in New York (Letter VII).

2. Their testimony was republished many times and accepted by all of their contemporaries.

3. Brigham Young and others confirmed Oliver's teaching about Mormon's depository being located in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

4. Every modern prophet and apostle who has formally written or spoken about Cumorah, including in General Conference, has affirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

5. Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the "two-Cumorahs" theory (i.e., the idea that the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico) would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, a warning that has become reality not only for members but for investigators as well.

6. The only reason why LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught is because they are convinced the Book of Mormon took place in a limited area of Central America (Mesoamerica). This belief was based on an erroneous assumption in Church history (i.e., that Joseph Smith had something to do with anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons) and a result-oriented interpretation of the text (i.e., they interpret the text to fit Mesoamerica).

7. Archaeological evidence does not contradict the New York setting; to the contrary, it supports the New York setting, once we accept what Oliver wrote about the numbers of people in the final battles and once we accept what residents in the area reported about finding artifacts, etc.

8. With the New York Cumorah as the starting point, we can understand the text to describe North America, corroborating what Joseph said about the plains of the Nephites, Zelph, the Indians in this country as the remnant of Lehi's people, etc.

9. Even with the New York Cumorah, there remains plenty of room for various models of the geography for people to study and discuss.

10. There is abundant physical evidence in North America that corroborates the text of the Book of Mormon. When more people focus on this, surely more evidence will become apparent.

We all share a goal of encouraging people to read and study the Book of Mormon. Erecting obstacles for prospective readers by creating confusion about where it took place and by raising doubts about the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver is counterproductive.

And that's why we need a consensus about one Cumorah in New York.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A fair characterization?

I'm hearing some people don't think it's a fair characterization when I say that proponents of the Mesoamerican and two Cumorahs theories claim that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Whether it's fair or not may be in the eye of the beholder, but it is accurate. 

At any rate, I'm not trying to be unfair. I'm trying to summarize the position of the Mesoamerican proponents as succinctly as I can. I'd be happy to change the wording if someone can email me a more succinct, descriptive, and accurate clause.

The basic premise of the "two-Cumorahs" theory is that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church because in Letter VII they declared it was a fact that the final battles took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. They also said that Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill.

Letter VII and the Mesoamerican theory are directly incompatible. Mesoamerican proponents have to believe Letter VII is false. That's why they invented the "two-Cumorahs" theory in the first place.

In Mormon's Codex, John Sorenson wrote “There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." (Emphasis added.) 

I don't know any Mesoamerican advocates who disagree with Brother Sorenson about that.

To the contrary, major LDS scholars and educators have endorsed and praised Mormon's Codex

Terryl Givens wrote the Foreword, claiming that "John Sorenson has again upped the ante with what will immediately serve as the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon."

The book was published by Deseret Book Company and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.

Brant Gardner and Mark Alan Wright reviewed Mormon's Codex, stating that "Sorenson’s name has become synonymous with a specific geographic correlation between the Book of Mormon and a Mesoamerican geography." They criticized elements they disagreed with, but not Brother Sorenson's condemnation of the idea of the New York Cumorah. Which is no surprise, because like other Mesoamerican advocates, they too reject Letter VII.

Book of Mormon Central frequently cites Mormon's Codex in its "KnoWhy" series.

On its home page, BYU Studies links to Brother Sorenson's maps from his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which are essentially the same ones used in Mormon's Codex.

Brother Sorenson isn't the only one who has written about this idea that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. In fact, if there are any Mesoamerican proponents who disagree--that is, who accept Letter VII as accurate--I'd very much like to know about them. 

I've discussed this point with many of the main Mesoamerican proponents at FairMormon, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BYU, and BMAF. They all think the New York Cumorah was a false tradition. They all think Joseph and Oliver didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place, that they speculated, that Letter VII was just their opinion, that Joseph changed his mind later in life, and that he and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah being in New York. 

Because Letter VII was reprinted so many times, even at Joseph's specific request, and because every one of Joseph's contemporaries agreed with the New York Cumorah, Mesoamerican proponents claim Joseph and Oliver misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. (Some try to soften the claim by instead asserting that Joseph passively adopted a false tradition, but that doesn't account for his repeated endorsement of the letters.)

The Mesoamerican advocates also say David Whitmer was wrong when he said he met the messenger carrying the plates to Cumorah, that Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others were relating an amazing joint "vision" of a hill in Mexico when they spoke about how Joseph, Oliver, and others entered the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York on multiple occasions, etc.

Furthermore, Mesoamerican advocates claim that Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others who have formally and specifically spoken or written about the New York Cumorah were all sharing their own opinions--and they were wrong, even when they spoke about it in General Conference.

If anything I've written in this post is inaccurate, I'd be happy to correct it. 

Meanwhile, right now the most egregious example or rejecting Letter VII, in my opinion, is the abstract map all new BYU students have to learn. It not only teaches that Cumorah is not in New York (i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about that), but that it is in no real-world location

If you can't see Cumorah on this resolution, I put an enlargement below.

The BYU map all new BYU students must learn.

According to BYU, Cumorah is anywhere except in New York.
By comparison, here's a map of Tolkein's Middle Earth.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Suggestions for Church curriculum - structure of the Book of Mormon

Church curriculum is awesome, well adapted for various age groups and interests.

There's a graphic on this page that depicts the common understanding of the structure of the Book of Mormon and how it was translated:

Here is the graphic:

The graphic has these problems:

1. It doesn't explain where the source plates were; i.e., in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

2. It suggests that somehow the "small plates" were inserted into the abridgment. This explanation has never made sense because (i) the Title Page, on the last leaf of the plates Joseph got from Moroni's stone box, does not mention any original plates; (ii) Joseph translated all of the plates in Harmony, including the Title Page on the last leaf; (iii) when he got to the end of this set of plates, Joseph wondered if he should retranslate from the beginning to replace the lost 116 pages; (iv) in D&C 10, the Lord told Joseph he'd have to translate the plates of Nephi, but he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

3. The diagram doesn't show how Joseph got the plates of Nephi directly from the depository in the Hill Cumorah after he moved to Fayette, NY. He didn't get them from Moroni's stone box.

I suggest replacing that graphic with this one which more clearly explains what plates Joseph translated and where. 

All of the source plates were in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York (Mormon 6:6). Mormon gave the abridgment to his son Moroni, who added to them and then deposited them in the stone box he built on the Hill Cumorah. 

Joseph Smith got the abridged plates with Moroni's additions, as shown in the Title Page. He translated these in Harmony, PA. When he reached the end, the Lord told him not to re-translate the first part (which was on the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost). Instead, he needed to translate part of the plates of Nephi to replace the 116 pages.

Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger before he left Harmony. The messenger took them to the depository in the Hill Cumorah, picked up the small plates of Nephi, took them to Fayette, and gave them to Joseph. Joseph translated them in the Whitmer home in Fayette.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Good things Book of Mormon Central has done

If not for their Mesomania, Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) would be a wonderful web page.

Because of their Mesomania, BOMC is unreliable; i.e., contrary to the Church's position of neutrality, BOMC continues to promote exclusively one theory of Book of Mormon geography, which unfortunately includes the "two-Cumorahs" theory which is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. Mesomania infects BOMC's editorial choices throughout the web page, their selection of articles for their archive, etc.

Despite their Mesomania, however, BOMC has some excellent resources that I encourage people to use in their studies. Most important, they provide access to Royal Skousen's invaluable work on the Book of Mormon text.

Here's an example. This "KnoWhy" includes a phenomenal graphic:

Here's the graphic:

Other KnoWhys are less useful because of Mesomania.

For example, this one.

BOMC's Mesomania relies on the premise that Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer misled the Church for over 100 years by claiming Cumorah was in New York. According to BOMC, modern LDS scholars know better than Joseph, Oliver and David. In my view, BOMC does more to undermine the reliability and credibility of these men than anyone else, because BOMC purports to represent the best of LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon.

This is all to say, definitely use some of the resources of BOMC, but be careful. Very careful, just as you should be when you consult FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, etc.