Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The comical search for Cumorah in Mexico

One obstacle to reaching consensus is absurdity.

For a good example, watch this:

We have people wandering through Mesoamerica searching for Cumorah. Seriously. My favorite line in the presentation is, "We're doing all we can while waiting for the Lord to give us more."

These people are rejecting what the Lord already gave us. Why would they think the Lord would give more?

We have a few lines of ambiguous text from the Book of Mormon, granted. It's possible to concoct any number of "requirements" for Cumorah depending on what assumptions we want to make and how far we are willing to "expand" the text.

But we also have the declaration by Joseph and Oliver that it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill Cumorah in New York. We have the repository in that same hill.

There is (or should be) no ambiguity about the location of Cumorah in New York.

And yet we have serious people traipsing (to use John Sorenson's term) through the jungles of Mesoamerica searching for a mountain that can "qualify" as the Hill Cumorah. They come up with their list of imaginary criteria or requirements based on a few vague passages and a whole lot of speculation. The most fun speculation is that Cumorah has to be near volcanoes, but not active ones that might have buried the site in ash. Plus, they need 2,000 hectares of land, and the hill Cumorah has to be smaller than the hill Riplah because of what the Onomasticon says about the word Riplah, etc. This sort of cascading series of assumptions moves the endeavor beyond absurdity.

There is also a "Hill Cumorah Expedition Team" from the Community of Christ, competing with LDS scholars to be the first to locate the hill Cumorah.

It is difficult to conceive of a more absurd pursuit than this.

Here is Team B's website.


Here is Team A's website (with links to all its affiliates):


One thing they don't explain is why they are looking in Mesoamerica. If it's not because of the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, why limit the search to Mesoamerica? Why exclude Peru, Chile, Panama, Baja?

For that matter, why exclude the actual Hill Cumorah in New York?

For bonus laughs, check out the comments.

Didn't everything Joseph Smith show through vision, personal walkabouts and such reveal everything happening in America.  Adam Andi Amon, Zelf, mounds, and now many artifacts seem to indicate a relationship with those in Central and South America but the nations they set up were not anywhere else accept the North American Continent.
Fair Mormon 
While he did make the above references you cited, he also made many other statements that placed The Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, South America, Canada and the western US. This video we put together may help answer your question https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rsyAExrNNc&t=813s

That FairMormon video is every bit as ridiculous as the comical search for Cumorah in Mesoamerica.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Blogs are higher quality than journal articles

Daniel Lakens, an experimental psychologist at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, offers five reasons why blog posts are of higher scientific quality than journal articles.

Here is the link:


I agree with all of his points, and I think they apply to LDS topics as well. Here is a summary:

1. Blogs have Open Data, Code, and Materials [This is important for scientific topics, but it should also be important for LDS topics when relevant. The most notorious example I'm aware of are the so-called "stylometry" studies published in the Interpreter, in which the authors give no data, code, or assumptions. That kind of "black box" study is worse than no study at all, IMO, because it opens the door for anyone to publish anything that confirms their biases, without any possibility of analysis or replication.]

2. Blogs have Open Peer Review [This alludes to the practice of using "peer review" as a sham appeal to authority as well as to the practice of using phony peer reviews, both of which I think occur in many LDS academic journals. As Lakens explains, "Scientific journal articles use peer review as quality control. The quality of the peer review process is as high as the quality of the peers that were involved in the review process. The peer review process was as biased as the biases of the peers that were involved in the review process." These points apply to the publications of the LDS citation cartel, which never disclose the identity of peer reviewers or even whether the material was actually peer reviewed. Of course, a "peer" is someone who shares the same assumptions, so peer review is illusory in most cases. At best, it is really nothing more than "peer approval," as I've noted many times. Blogs tend to be more honest about peer review. My blog, for example, is not peer reviewed at all, so I don't use "peer review" as a phony appeal to authority. You can accept, modify, or reject my ideas and the facts I offer, but I'm not going to try to persuade you with a fake appeal to the authority of some anonymous "peer review" process.]

3. Blogs have no Eminence Filter [This alludes to the elitism characteristic of scientific publications, which also exists in the world of LDS intellectuals. The citation cartel that controls LDS publications filters out alternative voices to maintain their dogmatic hold on their own ideas.]

4. Blogs have Better Error Correction [This one refers to the comments feature that allows readers to point out mistakes within a matter of minutes in many cases. When I started my blogs, I left them open for comments. But as readership increased, I started getting a lot of spam (people selling junk) that I didn't have time to delete, so I had to close comments. It's unfortunate. Some of the most productive interactions were with people who disagree with points I've made. Now people contact me by email to point out errors, which I then promptly correct or address one way or another. I welcome any and all relevant comments on my blogs, books, presentations, etc. I just want to get things right, using accurate and complete data and rational analysis. Lately, the citation cartel has published a lot of stuff that is easily rebutted, but they don't allow comment or rebuttal, which suggests they aren't confident about what they're publishing. I may open the blogs to comments again and see if the spam has been blocked by Google.]

5. Blogs are Open Access (and might be read more). [With no paywalls, blogs have broader distribution. Most LDS material doesn't have paywalls anyway, so it's not a big issue in this community. But it's not the paywall that is the biggest impediment to distribution, anyway. It's people's time, and the long-held, well-established dogma drive by Mesomania. The promoters of the Mesoamerican geography and related Church history lore have cleverly (but falsely) framed their position as the position of the Church. This makes Church members feel guilty of questioning the scholars and educators. That's the paywall that needs to be broken down more than it has so far. It could easily be remedied if the citation cartel offered more open access. To be specific, if the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, etc., were willing to publish articles about the new paradigms in Church history and Book of Mormon geography, they would have more credibility and, I think, long-term viability. But because they refuse, the Internet is the place for open access.]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Someone is wrong on the Internet

Is it possible to resolve anything on the Internet?

Probably not.

Is it possible to reach a consensus on the Internet?

Almost surely not.

Then why write and read blogs?

For me, blogs are useful records of the things I'm working on, what I read, and my thoughts, a sort of easily accessible journal that, apparently, other people are interested in. So far, there have been about 150,000 hits on my blogs and hundreds of people read them every day, mostly from the U.S. but also from many other countries around the world.

Marketing experts know it takes many impressions to influence thinking and behavior. Most people are not going to change their minds even in the face of new information, but a few do. Impressions can accumulate until a tipping point can be reached. One blog post might make the difference, like the last snowflake that causes an avalanche.

There's a clever post about the challenge of persuasion on another blog, here. Ardis Parshall writes:

"This classic xkcd webcomic (#386, Duty Calls) captures the common online absurdity of exerting great effort to prove to a stranger that he is wrong and you are right about something that doesn’t matter to anyone. I mean, who would do something like that?"

So is there a reason to blog other than journaling?

I think so.

As I've discussed many times, one of the biggest obstacles to reaching consensus in any field is lack of open communication and exchange of ideas. Whenever possible, people tend to prefer confirming their biases as opposed to changing their minds. This may be even more true of scholars, academics and educators than of the general public, for the obvious reason that the intellectuals have much more invested in their beliefs.

To confirm their biases, scholars, academics and educators tend to establish and perpetuate closed systems. A college campus, for example, is a closed system; faculty are hired based on shared academic assumptions and credentials, and students are admitted based on shared objectives and beliefs in the value of the established academic assumptions and credentials.

The LDS citation cartel is a prime example, of course, since the cartel's concept of "peer review" is essentially "peer approval" by a small group of like-minded academics who resist intrusion (or even participation) by outsiders who challenge their shared assumptions.  

Because the academic citation cartel exists to confirm the shared biases of cartel members, the cartel is able to impose their assumptions and beliefs on others through the educational system. Their assumptions about Church history (i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were confused speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah) and about Book of Mormon geography (i.e., that Mesoamerica is the only viable setting) have come to dominate LDS thought because the cartel members have successfully excluded alternative assumptions from BYU and CES. Consequently, everyone is taught the same assumptions, and they continue ad infinitum.

The Internet is one of the only ways to bypass the cartel and communicate new ideas. Cartel members understand this, which is why the citation cartel exists in the first place. They know that most members of the Church, when faced with a choice between the academics on one hand and Joseph and Oliver on the other, will choose Joseph and Oliver.

Given a choice, most members of the Church would reject the two-Cumorahs theory. For that reason, the citation cartel relegates the two-Cumorahs theory to isolated comments in academic writings and subliminal teaching such as the display on Temple Square and the images in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon.

In Joseph Smith's day, everyone knew there was one Cumorah and it was in New York.

In our day, LDS academics reject what Joseph and Oliver said, replacing it with the idea that there are two Cumorahs; Mormon's Cumorah is in Mesoamerica, and Moroni's Cumorah in New York.


I doubt this post will be the snowflake that causes an avalanche, but hopefully it will add to the accumulation of ideas that weighs on the citation cartel. Eventually, I trust, a consensus about Church history and Book of Mormon geography will develop.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Consensus science"

Yesterday John R. Christy, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. His testimony is here.

He suggested that Congress organize "Red Teams" to consider the problem of climate science "because Consensus Science is not Science." Below is an excerpt of his testimony that explains what I've been trying to say about the citation cartel of LDS scholars who promote the "two Cumorahs" and Mesoamerican theories of Book of Mormon geography.

See what you think.

John Christy excerpt: The term “consensus science” will often be appealed to regarding arguments about climate change to bolster an assertion. This is a form of “argument from authority.” 

Consensus, however, is a political notion, not a scientific notion. 

As I testified to the Inter-Academy Council in June 2010, wrote in Nature that same year (Christy 2010), and documented in my written House Testimony last year (House Space, Science and
Technology, 31 Mar 2011) the IPCC and other similar Assessments do not represent for me a consensus of much more than the consensus of those selected to agree with a particular consensus. 

The content of these climate reports is actually under the control of a relatively small number of individuals - I often refer to them as the “climate establishment” – who through the years, in my opinion, came to act as gatekeepers of scientific opinion and information, rather than brokers. The voices of those of us who object to various statements and emphases in these assessments are by-in-large dismissed rather than accommodated. 

This establishment includes the same individuals who become the “experts” called on to promote IPCC claims in government reports such as the Endangerment Finding by the Environmental Protection Agency. As outlined in my [31 Mar 2011] House Testimony, these “experts” become the authors and evaluators of their own research relative to research which challenges their work. 

But with the luxury of having the “last word” as “expert” authors of the reports, alternative views vanish.

I’ve often stated that climate science is a “murky” science. We do not have laboratory methods of testing our hypotheses as many other sciences do. As a result what passes for science includes, opinion, arguments-from-authority, dramatic press releases, and fuzzy notions of consensus generated by preselected groups. This is not science.


My comments: The debates in climate science differ in many respects from the debates about Book of Mormon geography and historicity, but in this respect they are the same. A small group of LDS scholars and educators has co-opted the narrative and trained thousands of Latter-day Saints to believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

These scholars and educators know their theory relies on the "two-Cumorahs" theory, but they don't publicize that much. In promoting the two-Cumorahs theory, they openly repudiate the words of the modern prophets and apostles, expressed in General Conference, as well as the teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery about Cumorah.

As long as the two-Cumorahs theory is actively promoted and taught, members of the Church and investigators will remain "confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon," as Joseph Fielding Smith put it.

We're not in a scientific endeavor here. Archaeology is more an art than a science, as is interpreting the text and the words of the modern prophets and apostles. But the analogy to science is useful because, ultimately, whatever consensus we reach needs to take into account all the relevant data. The current so-called consensus, contrived by the handful of LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories, is a huge mistake.

It is important to reach consensus among Church members regarding the location of Cumorah, at least, if for no other reason than to stop casting doubt on Joseph and Oliver and their successors.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Earthquake zones

I've been discussing nuclear energy risks with an environmental science class and the topic of the U.S. came up.

This map from the US Geological Survey is interesting from a Book of Mormon perspective. Here's the explanation from that site: "n the Central and Eastern United States, earthquakes are felt over a broader area than comparable-size quakes in the Western United States because of differences in geology. Although only of magnitude 6, the earthquake that occurred near Saint Louis in 1895 affected a larger area than the 1994 magnitude 6.7 Northridge, California, quake, which caused $40 billion in damage and economic losses and killed 67 people. A repeat of the 1895 earthquake could prove disastrous for the Midwest, where structures are not as earthquake resistant as those in California."

Those of us who believe the Book of Mormon took place in North America (Moroni's America, Heartland, etc.) think the land of Zarahemla was roughly today's Illinois and Iowa, while the land Bountiful was roughly Indiana and Ohio. The Lamanite land southward was below the Ohio River, with the city of Nephi in southeastern Tennessee. 

Most of the Nephites lived along rivers (or seas we call lakes today). It's pretty easy to see how an earthquake in this area would have caused the damage described in 3 Nephi, when combined with the tornadoes.

There is a lot more information here: http://showme.net/~fkeller/quake/maps.htm

I've discussed all of this before in more detail, but this was a reminder and I posted it here for further consideration.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Consensus by choosing narratives

I always find it humorous when a person says, "The consensus is..."

By definition, a consensus is general agreement among a particular group of people defined as those who agree with the consensus. Maybe there is a universal consensus throughout the world about something, but I suspect there are always some people who disagree regardless of the topic.

Consensus is achieved when a particular group agrees on a narrative (Consensus 1). Those who disagree are not part of the Consensus 1 group; presumably they are part of another group who has reached a different consensus (Consensus 2).

There are plenty of examples. Democrat vs. Republican. Falcons vs. Patriots. Coke vs. Pepsi. Apple vs. Samsung. Israel vs. Palestine.

Consensus about Book of Mormon geography/historicity is also a result of choosing a narrative.

At one level, there are believers vs nonbelievers; i.e., traditional Christians vs. Mormons. Christians have reached a consensus that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims; Mormons have reached the opposite consensus.

Among Mormons, there are two general narratives regarding the location of Cumorah. Some Mormons have reached a consensus that Cumorah is in New York (1 Cumorah) while others have reached a consensus that Cumorah is not in New York (2 Cumorahs).

It's pretty easy to decide which narrative you accept when both are spelled out clearly. 

The table below lets you choose which one you prefer. (This is cross-posted from another blog.)

Choose which narrative you accept, and you'll know which consensus you agree with.

[Note that "Mesoamerica" is a proxy for every theory that places Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.]

As always, I emphasize that people are free to believe whatever they want. The table is intended to clarify what others think so you can compare your own beliefs and make up your own mind.

Which do you find more compatible with your personal beliefs? 

Moroni’s America
Mormon and Moroni lived in Mesoamerica.
Mormon and Moroni lived in North America.
Mormon wrote his abridgment somewhere in Mesoamerica and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), a hill somewhere in southern Mexico, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
Mormon wrote his abridgment in the vicinity of western New York and hid up all the Nephite records in a repository in in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), the hill near Palmyra, New York, before giving "these few plates" to Moroni.
Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record, travels 3,400 miles to New York, and hides the plates in the stone box, thinking he would not live long. Or, he keeps the plates with him while he roams around Mesoamerica for decades. Or he hides them somewhere else until he is ready to take them 3,400 miles to New York.
Moroni adds a couple of chapters to his father’s record and hides the plates in the stone box in New York, thinking he would not live long.
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the repository in southern Mexico and abridges them. He adds the abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion, and hides the plates again in New York. Or, Moroni abridges the plates of Ether right after his father died, and the plates were among the few his father gave him. 
Later, Moroni retrieves the plates of Ether from the repository in New York and abridges them. He adds the abridgment to his father’s abridgment, along with a sealed portion, and hides the plates again in the stone box on the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Later, Moroni returns to the repository in southern Mexico and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and returns to New York to put the finished record back in the stone box.
Later, Moroni returns to the repository in New York and gets a sermon and letters from his father. He adds this material to his final comments—the Book of Moroni—and puts the finished record back in the stone box.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. But this is a mistake because the record was written in Central America and deposited in New York. Either Joseph or Oliver misunderstood, or else Moroni misspoke.
Moroni visits Joseph Smith in 1823 and tells him the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. Moroni accurately describes where the record was written.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated part of these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), even though he had reached the end of the plates and hadn't found these plates yet.
Joseph Smith obtained the abridged record of the Nephites and the Jaredites from Moroni’s stone box. He translated these plates in Harmony and gave them back to an angel because he was finished with them. The Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), but he didn’t have those yet.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
In Harmony, Joseph translated the Title Page from the last leaf of the plates. He had it printed and delivered to the U.S. federal district court in New York as part of his copyright application.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. But David was mistaken because he conflated the false tradition of the New York Cumorah with another unspecified event.
On the way from Harmony to Fayette, David Whitmer said he, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man bearing the plates who was heading for Cumorah. Joseph said it was one of the three Nephites. This was the messenger who had the Harmony plates and was returning them to the repository.
In Fayette, an angel returned the Harmony plates to Joseph.
In Fayette, an angel gave Joseph the small plates of Nephi which came from the repository in Cumorah.
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
In Fayette, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others had multiple visions of Mormon’s repository in the “real” Hill Cumorah, which is somewhere in southern Mexico.
Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and others actually visited Mormon’s repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York and saw the stacks of plates and other Nephite artifacts.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a “clean hill.”
Cumorah is in New York because hundreds of artifacts, including weapons of war, have been recovered from the hill.
Cumorah cannot be in New York because it is a glacial moraine that cannot contain a natural cave.
Cumorah is in New York because an actual room that matches the description given by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others has been found there.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery never claimed revelation about the location of Cumorah. They merely speculated. They adopted a false tradition and misled the Church. Joseph later changed his mind and, by writing anonymous articles, claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America and that only scholars could determine where the Book of Mormon took place.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn’t need revelation about the location of Cumorah because they visited Mormon’s repository. They may also have had revelations that they didn’t write or even relate. E.g., JS-H 1:73-4. They did not mislead the Church. Joseph never changed his mind and never linked the Book of Mormon to Central America, through anonymous articles or otherwise.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as uninspired men. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
All the modern prophets and apostles who have identified the Hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles were speaking as their roles as prophets, seers and revelators. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because it’s the only explanation that fits their criteria. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong to condemn the theory and didn’t know what he was talking about.
The two-Cumorahs theory originated with scholars from the Reorganized Church and was adopted and promoted by LDS scholars because they rejected Joseph Fielding Smith when he prophetically said the two-Cumorahs theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory is correct because whenever the current Brethren have a question about the Book of Mormon, they consult the scholars at BYU who promote the two-Cumorahs theory.
The scholars’ two-Cumorah theory doesn’t fit the historical record, the affirmative declarations of Joseph and Oliver, or the prophetic statements of numerous modern prophets and apostles.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Supporting the opposite side

Political discussion and diplomacy involve reconciling different perspectives and objectives. Lessons learned in those areas may be relevant to reaching consensus about Book of Mormon geography. 
I saw a good piece on the utility of looking at issues from an alternative perspective. Titled "Flipping the Script," the article addresses the problems of confirmation bias and the backfire effect. Both of these appear frequently in the literature of Book of Mormon geography studies.
Here's the link to the article:
Here's an excerpt from the article, with my comments:
"The spirit of liberty," wrote Judge Learned Hand, "is the spirit that is not too sure it is right." 
[the quotation is from a speech, here. The line continues: "the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias." By this measure, the various sides of the Book of Mormon geography question have not been very effective.]
Authoritarianism starts with absolute certainty: Why tolerate any dissent when it is so clearly wrong? Why allow people their own choices if they choose incorrectly?
[That passage describes the citation cartel perfectly. They refuse to publish material on this topic written by anyone other than Mesoamerican advocates; they refuse to publish critiques of the Mesoamerican theory; they refuse to allow proponents of other theories to publish; and they attack alternative theories without allowing rebuttals or even a dialog. Currently, Book of Mormon Central is the worst because they are republishing all the old stuff, but you can tell if a publication is part of the citation cartel by whether its editors follow these guidelines.]
The antidote to absolute certainty is a spirit of inquiry—but that spirit runs up against various mental habits we're all wired with, such as confirmation bias and the backfire effect: People confronted with information that contradicts their belief often end up digging in their mental heels.
[The spirit of inquiry is absent from the citation cartel; that's why it's a cartel. Both confirmation bias and the backfire effect are on display regularly.]
In one experiment, conservatives were presented with Bush administration claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Some also were given information refuting those claims. Thirty-four percent of the first group accepted the administration's claim. But 64 percent of those presented with the refutation accepted the administration's claim. The contradictory evidence made them truculent.
["Truculent" is a perfect description of the publications of the citation cartel.]
This has serious consequences in more than one way. As Bloomberg columnist and George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen recently wrote, "a few years ago, when I read people I disagreed with, they swayed my opinion in their direction to some degree. These days, it's more likely that I simply end up thinking less of them." (His comment is reminiscent of Santayana's remark about newspapers: "When I read them I form perhaps a new opinion of the newspaper, but seldom a new opinion on the subject discussed.")
[An excellent description of Mesomania. I encounter this all the time.]
As an antidote to such cognitive biases, Cowen suggests not merely reading things you disagree with, but actually writing them—and, he further advises, "try to make them sound as persuasive as possible." The exercise is similar to the invention of another GMU economist, Bryan Caplan, who came up with the Ideological Turing Test: Try to write an essay in the voice of an ideological opponent. If a neutral judge can't tell the difference, then you pass.
[The citation cartel makes sure readers are not exposed to alternative perspectives; that's why it's a cartel. LDS students and members are essentially unable to read things that the establishment LDS scholars and educators disagree with. Ironically, these scholars and educators disagree with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on this issue, so they actively suppress Letter VII and many other important references.]
These are excellent proposals that might help break the political logjam America seems to have gotten itself into. Instead of knocking down straw men and rebutting claims nobody actually believes, they make us take on the best arguments from the other side. If nothing else, this makes our own case stronger. If you don't comprehend your opponent's point, then you can't counter it. And if you can't counter it, then you can't convince anybody who believes it.
[This is another way of saying that if you actually switch sides because you've actually changed your point of view, then you understand both points of view. Those who have never changed their minds on this topic are probably not going to comprehend the other's point of view.]
More hopefully, arguing for the other side might inculcate a healthy sense of self-doubt.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Two-movie reality

[cross posted from http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/02/two-movie-reality.html]

If you have been following the Scott Adams (Dilbert) blog, you have seen him explain political disagreements in terms of "two movies on one screen." He means we're seeing the same thing but interpreting it differently.

His post of Feb 12 gives an excellent example. Read it here:

I think his methodology applies to the question of Book of Mormon geography in many respects.

Take Letter VII for example.

We can all read the same words--Oliver Cowdery says it is a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah--but members of the Church see two different movies.

We can all see that Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history and had it reprinted multiple times for all his contemporaries to read.

But even though we read the same words, we "see" them differently. Here's how Adams describes it (modified in part for the Letter VII issue, emphasis added).

I have been saying since [I published my book about Letter VII that the LDS] world has split into two realities – or as I prefer to say, two movies on one screen – and most of us don’t realize it. We’re all looking at the same events and interpreting them wildly differently. That’s how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work. They work together to create a spontaneous hallucination that gets reinforced over time. That hallucination becomes your reality until something changes.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with natural intelligence. We like to think that the people on the other side of the political debate are dumb, under-informed, or just plain evil. That’s not the case. We’re actually experiencing different realities. I mean that literally.

I know, I know. When you read something like that, you probably shake your head and think I’m either being new-agey or speaking metaphorically. I am being neither. This is well-understood cognitive science.

And here comes the fun part.

I’m about to show you some mind-blowing evidence of the two-movie effect. Figuratively speaking, I’ll hold an apple in my hand and show it to the audience. Half of you will see an apple. The other half will see a gun. That’s how dramatic this two-movie illusion is. I can be watching a comedy movie while you’re in the same theater, sitting next to me, watching a drama. On the same screen. At the same time.

[End of quotation/paraphrase of Adams]

Let's apply this to the question of Cumorah:

I'm holding up Letter VII.

Movie #1. If you believe Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was in New York, you are seeing the movie that Oliver described; i.e., the final battles taking place in New York, in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah. In your movie, Oliver and Joseph are reliable, accurate, credible, and trustworthy. (After all, they had visited Mormon's repository in Cumorah. Plus, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church at the time, the only witness besides Joseph Smith to the restoration of the Priesthood, most of the translation of the Book of Mormon, etc.). In your movie, every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah has supported what Oliver and Joseph said.

Movie #2. If you believe Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was somewhere other than New York (it doesn't matter where), then you are seeing the movie that Oliver and Joseph were speculating, were wrong, and thereby misled the Church for 100 years (until RLDS scholars corrected the mistake, and then LDS scholars adopted their Mesoamerican theories). In your movie, Joseph's successors perpetuated a false tradition about Cumorah. Members of the First Presidency, speaking in General Conference, continued to mislead the Church until at least 1975. In your movie, the scholars know better than the prophets and apostles.

Same facts about Letter VII, but an entirely different movie in the minds of those who read it.

Is there an event that provides a way for this two-movie reality to "fold back into one" as Adams describes it? He says it will take a lot of time plus a lot of observations.

I think we already have plenty of observations to fold this two-movie reality into one. I've discussed these at length in my books and blogs. Realizing Joseph translated two sets of plates, as I've explained in my latest book and my presentations, is just one more reason to accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah.

It's possible that for some people, no number of observations over any amount of time will overcome their cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. However, I think that for most members of the Church, Letter VII alone is sufficient. If not, then the accumulating evidence will lead then to see Oliver and Joseph as credible, reliable witnesses that Cumorah is in New York.

Another way to say this is:

Instead of two Cumorahs and one set of plates, 
there is one Cumorah and two sets of plates.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Obstacles to consensus: the Letter VII example

One obstacle to reaching consensus about Book of Mormon and Church history issues is differing views on what is credible and reliable. On one of my other blogs, I discussed this issue using Letter VII as an example. Because it's a good case study, I'm reposting it to this blog as well.

[This is cross-posted from lettervii.com, here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/01/why-some-people-reject-letter-vii.html]

Since I published my commentary on Letter VII (Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorahhere), there have been several efforts to persuade members of the Church to disbelieve what Oliver Cowdery wrote about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Before I get to the objections, consider these aspects of Oliver's letters. Part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price. Oliver's letters give us the first quotations of what Moroni told Joseph. They give us the first account of John the Baptist conferring the Priesthood. They give us the first detailed accounts of most of what happened when Joseph found the plates. They were written with Joseph's assistance and reproduced multiple times in Joseph's day at his personal direction.

Until I started encouraging people to read Letter VII, the main objection to these letters was from anti-Mormons who said Joseph and Oliver made up everything so we shouldn't believe these letters. Now, we have LDS scholars and educators telling us not to believe them, all because of the New York Cumorah statements in Letter VII.

The Objections to Letter VII.

1. The first objection is that Joseph and Oliver never had a revelation about the Hill Cumorah. This one relies on a couple of logical fallacies, but at its heart is the idea that Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah, that they were wrong, and that they thereby misled the Church for a century, so much so that every one of their contemporaries, including all of Joseph's successors as Presidents of the Church in the 19th century at least, were misled by Letter VII. I don't find that persuasive in the least. But the logical fallacies show why the argument doesn't hold up.

First is the self-evident fact that we don't have records of everything Joseph and Oliver said and did. The most we can say is that we do not have a record of a specific revelation that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 (the site of the Nephite records repository) was in New York. But because we don't have a record doesn't mean it didn't happen. We do have Letter VII; what we don't have is a separate document specifically explaining the factual background for what Oliver wrote about Cumorah.

Second, even better than a revelation is personal experience. For example, Joseph didn't dictate a revelation that God and Christ were two separate beings; he had a personal experience with them. Joseph and Oliver didn't record a revelation about the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist; they related a personal experience with him. In the same way, they didn't record a revelation about the Nephite repository in the New York Hill Cumorah; they related personal experiences with that repository. (On this point, those who reject Letter VII say Brigham Young and the others who related this account are not trustworthy, or are reporting a vision of a hill somewhere in Mexico. Think of those two explanations a moment. Brigham Young is now making stuff up? Or Oliver related a vision of a hill in Mexico that he visited three times, with physical artifacts described in terms of how many men it would take to carry them or what kinds of wagons?)

2. The next objection is that it is impossible to have a cave or room in the New York Hill Cumorah because it is a glacial moraine; i.e., a pile of rocks. It may be unlikely to have a natural cave there, but when you read the accounts of the repository, several terms are used, not just "cave." It was a space inside the hill that had a rock shelf, a table, and plates piled everywhere. There is no reason why a man-made room could not be built into the hill Cumorah. There is the one we have photos of, for one thing. Plus, when they dug the foundation for the Moroni monument, they broke into a room that they filled with cement. So again, reality trumps theory. [Even if you don't want to believe these modern accounts, there is no physical reason why Mormon could not have built a room in the New York hill.]

3. Another objection is that Letter VII has not been quoted in General Conference. I haven't taken the time to verify that, but I've pointed out on this blog that as recently as 1975, President Romney of the First Presidency, in General Conference, spoke about Cumorah (in New York) as the scene of the final battles. Three years later, Elder Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve did likewise. So the follow-up objection is that none of the current members of the Twelve and none of the current First Presidency have quoted Letter VII in General Conference, and no Presidents of the Church have done so in General Conference while they were President. (Being President of the Quorum of the Twelve doesn't count, if you're Joseph Fielding Smith; you have to restate it a third time during the 18 months you are actually President of the Church for you to be credible and reliable, even though you quoted it specifically as a 20-year Apostle and Church Historian, and repeated it 20 years later as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, because those two times don't count.) Therefore, we can't rely on Letter VII or any prior statements about Cumorah being in New York. This is a fascinating objection. It would mean that we should not be reading, let alone relying on, anything said in General Conference prior to the current Q12 and 1P, except for talks given by Presidents of the Church. No more Neal A. Maxwell. No more J. Reuben Clark. No more... well, you get the idea. If people want to take that position, fine. But I can't make sense of it. This is not a one-off oddball theory, but a frequently published and discussed teaching that originated with Oliver Cowdery, at least, and part of the set of letters specifically endorsed by Joseph Smith.

4. Another objection is that there was a typo in Letter III that Oliver corrected in Letter IV. In Letter III, Oliver had referred to Joseph's age as being in the 15th year. In Letter IV, he wrote, "You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr's, age-that was an error in the type-it should have been in the 17th.-"

It's difficult to imagine how correcting a typo in one letter means we should disregard the letter that contained the typo, let alone all the rest of the letters. If anything, the correction of this typo shows Oliver's attention to detail and his desire to be as accurate as possible.

Besides, when Winchester reprinted the letters in the Gospel Reflector, he corrected the obvious typo in Letter III and omitted Oliver's reference to the correction in Letter IV. Don Carlos Smith, who republished the letters in the Times and Seasons in 1840-41, changed Letter III to read "the thirteenth year" but left the correction in Letter IV the same as I've shown above, an odd detail for sure. The Prophet followed the Winchester versions of both Letter III (June 1, 1844) and Letter IV (June 8, 1844).

Related to this objection is the alleged problem that Oliver seemed to be referring to the circumstances leading up to the First Vision when he was actually describing the circumstances of Moroni's visit, and that Oliver gave a different reason for Martin Harris' visit to New York with the so-called Anthon Transcript.

In the first place, Joseph's well-known accounts of the circumstances leading up to the First Vision postdated these letters. (He did write a preliminary version in 1832 that barely touches on the circumstances.) IOW, this is the earliest account of those circumstances. In the second place, Oliver learned about these circumstances from Joseph; if there are mistakes, they can hardly be attributed to Oliver who expressly relied on what Joseph told him (and on other documents we don't have today). Historians who claim the dating is wrong rely on an incomplete record anyway; Dr. Lamb may have made unrecorded visits to the area.

Oliver was aware of the difference between fact and conjecture, as he explained throughout the letters. He was also aware of the difficulty of relating details exactly.

In Letter VI, Oliver wrote, "I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering. You are aware of the fact, that to give a minute rehearsal of a lengthy interview with a heavenly messenger, is very difficult, unless one is assisted immediately with the gift of inspiration." IOW, Oliver was relying on Joseph's memory, or possibly documents we don't have now (as Oliver claimed he did).

Some parts of these letters involve events that occurred before Oliver got involved, for which he had to rely on what Joseph told him. But the parts of the letters that relate Oliver's own experiences he characterizes as fact. This includes the Letter VII descriptions of Cumorah, which Oliver knew from his own experience was in New York, as related by Brigham Young.

Another related observation involves Letters I and II. Historians note that Letter I seems to be introducing the First Vision, while Letter II skips that vision and goes right to the visit of Moroni. One author proposes that Joseph Smith asked Oliver not to discuss the First Vision, which seems reasonable to me. Here's the link. The point is not that Oliver was loose with the facts, but that he changed course for an unexplained reason. I think this shows how closely Joseph and Oliver worked together, especially when Joseph's eventual explanation of the First Vision adopted some of Oliver's commentary.

5. Yet another objection is that you can't resolve Book of Mormon geography by referring to a single anecdote in Church history. That is axiomatic, and no one I know of claims otherwise, certainly not me. However, an extensive, detailed discussion of the final battles at Cumorah is hardly an anecdote. This is an explicit statement, officially republished many times for nearly 100 years. Second, I don't think Letter VII resolves anything because people are free to believe it or not. Third, Letter VII only establishes the New York location of Cumorah for those who trust Oliver (and Joseph, who helped write it and endorsed it multiple times). It says nothing about a limited or hemispheric geography. People are still free to believe whatever they want about geography.

6. Another objection is that Joseph let mistakes go without correcting them, such as the statement in the April 15, 1842 Times and Seasons that it was Nephi instead of Moroni who visited Joseph Smith. Maybe Joseph didn't care about the error, or maybe he didn't notice it. (I think this is evidence that Joseph wasn't editing the Times and Seasons by this point, so it has nothing to do with his oversight.) There was another error in the Book of Commandments regarding a date on one of the revelations that Joseph supposedly reviewed but didn't bother to change. Again, maybe he didn't care about such details, or maybe he didn't notice, or maybe he forgot the original date. But those one-word details hardly compare with Letter VII's extensive and detailed description of the Hill Cumorah and the final battles, especially when Joseph specifically endorsed the letter multiple times and mentioned Cumorah in D&C 128 in connection with other events that took place in New York.

7. An objection related to the first one is that Joseph adopted a false tradition started by unknown persons at an early date. True, there were things that Joseph believed at one time that he later changed his mind about, such as phrenology. He didn't object to smoking tobacco until he received the Word of Wisdom. He may have given bad medical advice. But these are peripheral matters compared with the location of Cumorah, and there are no accounts of him changing his views on Cumorah. Nor did any of his contemporaries, all the way through the 1879 footnotes in the Book of Mormon. In Feb. 1844, Oliver's letters were published as a pamphlet in England. Later that year they were published in New York in The Prophet. There is no hint of opposition by Joseph to the contents of Letter VII or the other letters; instead, portions of Letter I were canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. It's true that Letter VII was not canonized, but does that make it a false tradition? In my view, it does not. We have lesson manuals full of the teachings of Joseph Smith that were never canonized.

8. The final objection I'll address here is the idea that maybe this was Oliver's statement on his own, without input from Joseph. People forget that Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote Letter VII. I've gone through his qualifications before. A few months after writing Letter VII, he and Joseph received the Priesthood keys from Moses, Elias and Elijah in the Kirtland temple, along with the visitation of the Lord Himself. Even assuming Joseph didn't tell Oliver to write about Cumorah, Oliver is independently a credible, reliable and personal witness of these events, which is why Brigham Young and others relied on what he said about the repository. Not to mention, we all rely on Oliver's credibility and reliability as one of the Three Witnesses (and the translation, and John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and so much more). When people choose to single out Letter VII as Oliver's one big falsehood, a statement of fact that was not actually a fact, and they do so purely because they disagree with Oliver, I don't find that a persuasive argument.

To review: there are two basic reasons to reject what Oliver Cowdery wrote about Cumorah in Letter VII.

First is the basic anti-Mormon reason, that Oliver made the whole thing up, conspiring with Joseph to deceive people, so everything in his letters is false.

Second is the position of those who object to Letter VII because they object to the New York Cumorah because they believe a theory of Book of Mormon geography that is inconsistent with the New York Cumorah; i.e., they disagree with what Oliver wrote, and isolate the Cumorah issue as the one falsehood he wrote because it contradicts what they prefer to believe about Cumorah.

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. I'm perfectly fine with that. I just want to clarify the issues for those who read Letter VII so people can make informed decisions about whether or not to accept what Oliver wrote.

When the only reason a person rejects Letter VII is because he/she disagrees with Oliver Cowdery's statement about Cumorah, I find that puzzling to say the least.

For me, it's an easy choice.

On one hand, we have people living in the 21st century who think they know more about Cumorah, the plates, and all the circumstances of the translation and interaction with angels in New York than Oliver did because of what they've read.

On the other hand, we have Oliver, who was there when Joseph translated, who handled the plates, who saw the angels, who had been in the repository of Nephite records in the hill in New York, and who collaborated with Joseph on these letters.  I think I'll go with that guy.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cumorah: A Decision Tree for Book of Mormon Geography

People have asked for a summary of Book of Mormon geography issues. The Church wisely has no official position on the setting. It’s up to each member to decide.

The question really boils down to this:

Do you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York or in southern Mexico?

Advocates for the North American setting believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York and the rest of the geography flows from that.

Advocates for the Central American setting (Mesoamerica) don’t believe Cumorah is in New York. Instead, they claim there are “two Cumorahs.” One, the hill where Joseph obtained the plates, is in New York. This hill was incorrectly named Cumorah by unknown early Saints. Calling the hill in New York “Cumorah” is a false tradition because the real hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York, then you accept a North American setting.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico, then you accept a Mesoamerican setting.

To decide whether you agree with Central America or North America, you can check the box next to the proposition and then compare your responses to those of the Central and North American proponents. 1-17 are statements of historical fact; 18-20 are conclusions.

1. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.
2. Joseph Smith obtained the original set of plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

3. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), which was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except for the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.
4. Orson Pratt explained that Moroni deposited the plates in “a department of the hill separate from the great, sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father.”

5. Brigham Young said Oliver told him that he (Oliver) and Joseph had made at least two visits to a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained piles of records and ancient Nephite artifacts.
6. Heber C. Kimball talked about Father Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and others seeing records upon records piled upon tables in the hill Cumorah.

7. When Joseph and Oliver finished translating the original set of plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah.

8. In Fayette, NY, Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi.

9. Oliver Cowdery said it was a fact that the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites (Letter VII).
10. Joseph Smith had his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his history.
11. Joseph Smith gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his newspaper called the Gospel Reflector
12. Don Carlos republished Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in the 1842 Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S).
13. Letter VII was republished in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era.

14. D&C 128:20 reads, “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed,” followed by references to other events that took place in New York.
15. To date, apart from Moroni’s stone box and the plates and other objects Joseph Smith possessed and showed to the Witnesses, no artifact or archaeological site that can be directly linked to the Book of Mormon has been found anywhere.
16. Every LDS who was alive during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and several prophets and apostles since, accepted the New York hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles in General Conference.
17. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated this when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s in his book Doctrines of Salvation.
18. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah. They were wrong and they misled the Church.
19. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong when he criticized the two-Cumorahs theory and maintained that Cumorah is in New York.

20. Anthony Ivins, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Peterson were all wrong when they spoke in General Conference about Cumorah being in New York.

If you agree with 1-20, then you reject the New York Cumorah and probably accept a Mesoamerican setting (or another non-New York Cumorah setting).

If you agree with 1-17 but disagree with 18-20, then you accept the New York Cumorah and reject the settings outside North America.

[I posted a more detailed comparison table in August, 2016, here. This one includes areas in which the two sides agree to disagree. So far as I know, it remains the most detailed and complete statement of the respective positions of those who advocate a Central American (Mesoamerican) setting and a North American (Heartland/Moroni’s America) setting.]