Friday, December 15, 2017

Persuading by presenting facts as "consensus"

A common persuasion technique is to present "facts" as a "consensus" of experts. This is often done in scientific debates. It is especially persuasive to more educated people.

This is the same technique used by proponents of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. They frequently cite the "widespread consensus among believing scholars," to use Terryl Givens' phrase.

But as Mark Twain wrote, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
_____

The appeal to consensus is psychologically powerful. It is more effective than presenting facts. Researchers tell us that people resist evidence that challenges their worldview directly, but their perceptions are more malleable. If they perceive that a norm in science and society is changing, they "adjust their core beliefs over time to match."

In the Church, people have a core belief that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were reliable and credible witnesses. Because of that, their teaching about the New York Cumorah (Letter VII) was accepted as a fact because Joseph and Oliver said it was a fact. All of their contemporaries accepted this. All of the prophets and apostles who have spoken or written about the topic since have concurred.

This has been a problem for proponents of the Mesoamerican theory because they have concluded that New York is too far away from Mesoamerica. That's why they developed the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., the theory that the "real" Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in Mexico. The hill in New York, they say, was merely the place where Joseph found the plates.

But their theory contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught.

This creates cognitive dissonance that they resolve by teaching that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

Basically, it works like this:

BYU/CES teachers encounter Letter VII










It's easy to see how this approach will ultimately backfire on the teachers when their students, who retain their core belief in the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver, eventually learn about Letter VII.

BYU/CES students encounter Letter VII










The intellectuals seek to avoid this outcome by suppressing Letter VII and the words of the prophets and apostles, but with the Internet, that's a losing strategy.

So instead, they resort to the "consensus as fact" approach.

One analysis explains it this way:

In the murk of post-truth public debate, facts can polarise. Scientific evidence triggers reaction and spin that ends up entrenching the attitudes of opposing political tribes.

Recent research suggests this phenomenon is actually stronger among the more educated, through what psychologists call ‘motived reasoning’: where data is rejected or twisted – consciously or otherwise – to prop up a particular worldview.

However, a new study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour finds that one type of fact can bridge the chasm between conservative and liberal, and pull people’s opinions closer to the truth on one of the most polarising issues in US politics: climate change.

Previous research has broadly found US conservatives to be most sceptical of climate change. Yet by presenting a fact in the form of a consensus – “97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening” – researchers have now discovered that conservatives shift their perceptions significantly towards the scientific ‘norm’.

In an experiment involving over 6,000 US citizens, psychologists found that introducing people to this consensus fact reduced polarisation between higher educated liberals and conservatives by roughly 50%, and increased conservative belief in a scientific accord on climate change by 20 percentage points.

Moreover, the latest research confirms the prior finding that climate change scepticism is indeed more deeply rooted among highly educated conservatives. Yet exposure to the simple fact of a scientific consensus neutralises the “negative interaction” between higher education and conservatism that strongly embeds these beliefs.

We can compare those members of the Church who have a core belief in the reliability and credibility of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to those who are skeptical of climate change. (We're not equating the two beliefs; we're merely showing how the psychology works).

In the climate change debate, the proponents want to change attitudes, but the facts are all over the place, so instead they resort to the "consensus" argument. [Note: I agree wit those who say the 97% consensus study is bogus, and I think anyone who digs into it agrees. But it has been repeated so often in the media that it has acquired a truth status apart from its merits.]

Likewise, the Mesoamerican proponents have to change attitudes among LDS people. They have to overcome the core belief in the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver. They know the facts (geography, archaeology, anthropology, and geology) are all over the place and that they'll never persuade LDS to change their minds by citing facts. So instead, they cite the "widespread consensus among believing scholars" as Terryl Givens did in his Foreword to Mormon's Codex.

And they've been quite successful among the more educated LDS, just as the study quoted above would predict.

Then these educated LDS become the BYU/CES teachers and perpetuate the whole scheme.
_____

Fortunately, Letter VII appears in the Joseph Smith papers, right in History, 1834-1836. Anyone can go read it here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83

In a sense, Letter VII is ubiquitous again, just as it was in Joseph's day when it was published in every Church newspaper, through the Improvement Era.

It's also fortunate that the facts--archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography--corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said was a fact; i.e., that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

I think the tide is turning on the consensus approach. Confidence in Joseph and Oliver will, eventually, outweigh confidence in the intellectuals.

At that point, we'll reach a consensus among the LDS that supports Joseph and Oliver instead of repudiates them.


Friday, December 8, 2017

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 roundelmike.com, 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.







Monday, December 4, 2017

Visual persuasion--and presuasion

[Note: for administration purposes, I'm reposting this entry from a few days ago.]

Visual persuasion--and presuasion

There is potential to reach a consensus about Book of Mormon historicity/geography through visual persuasion and presuasion. However, just the opposite is currently happening.

Tuesday I visited Temple Square to admire the exhibit of two-Cumorahs that repudiates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught in Letter VII.


This exhibit also repudiates what every prophet and apostle has taught about Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

Most LDS people prefer to follow the prophets instead of the intellectuals, so how have the intellectuals prevailed in pushing their theory?

Because of visual persuasion--and presuasion.
_____

The saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words." But for the Book of Mormon, a picture is worth 269,510 words (the number of words in the text).

Millions of visitors to Temple Square see this exhibit. Millions more see the ubiquitous painting of Christ visiting the Mayans, which is featured in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon, in chapels and media worldwide--and even on the Temple Square Instagram page.

Temple Square instagram page
Far more people (members, investigators, and the general public) see these images than will ever read the words in the Book of Mormon. But if people get around to actually reading the text, they will interpret it in a Mayan setting because of visual persuasion and visual presuasion.

On one level, these display and paintings are designed to persuade viewers that the Lord visited the ancient people in North America. The scenes are dramatic and interesting, no doubt. Perhaps they may persuade some people to read the text to learn about all these Mayan ruins and jungles.

(This was the same reason why Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, the Pratt brothers and others promoted the same things in the 1840s, but this zealous missionary idea was just as wrong then as it is now).

If and when people actually read the text, they find no references to jungles, massive stone temples, or any other descriptions of Mayan culture.

If they investigate further, they quickly discover that no non-LDS expert on Mayan culture finds any connection to the Book of Mormon.

They also discover that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and all their contemporaries and successors declared that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

Then they realize this entire Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was concocted by LDS intellectuals who have trained LDS students at BYU and in CES for decades--including the people who produced the art, media and displays.

This creates the cognitive dissonance that causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. It also causes investigators to stop meeting with missionaries.

When we were on Temple Square the other night, we passed a guy speaking with two of the sisters. He was asking them about archaeological evidence. Of course, they have no answer. They are defenseless, because our intellectuals have persuaded so many people that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.
_____

It is well known that people's ideas are influenced by what they see, even subconsciously. For example, if you make sure people pass by an American flag before you ask them about political questions, they will give more patriotic answers than if they don't see the flag first.

When you show Christ visiting Mayans before they read the Book of Mormon, they will "see" Mayan ruins and jungles even though the words don't appear in the text.

But then when they discover Letter VII and all the corroborating evidence that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught, they question what they've learned at the visitors centers and from the media and artwork, which they incorrectly attribute to an official Church position that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the "real" Hill Cumorah is in Mexico.
_____

Fortunately, many people who have left the Church or drifted into inactivity return to activity when they discover that the bizarre Mayan stuff was invented by intellectuals and never taught by the prophets. They are enthusiastic to discover there is evidence to support what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

But think how much more effective it would be to use visual persuasion and presuasion to support what Joseph and Oliver taught!

Fortunately, there are some examples on lds.org of this, such as the Scriptures Legacy video you can watch here: https://www.lds.org/church/news/new-church-video-honors-scriptures-legacy?lang=eng.

Christ visiting earthworks, not Mayan stone pyramids

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Prophets vs Scholars-Cumorah edition

This blog hopes to promote a consensus about Book of Mormon geography/historicity.

It turns out, there is already a consensus, at least regarding Cumorah. Everyone agrees that the prophets and apostles have taught one thing, while our LDS intellectuals teach something else.

Another way to say it is, there are two consensuses.

All the prophets and apostles who have addressed the issue agree that Cumorah is in New York. Their consistent teachings have focused on New York like a laser, as depicted below.

Many LDS intellectuals, particularly those who claim to be "Book of Mormon scholars" and who run Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, FairMormon, the Interpreter, etc., and who teach at BYU, have reached a consensus that the prophets and apostles are wrong. Instead of the prophets' laser-like focus on New York, the intellectuals in the Church teach people to search somewhere in southern Mexico (or in a fantasy world map) for the "real Cumorah," as shown below.*

The two consensuses

Members of the Church are left to decide which consensus they agree with.

For me, it's an easy choice. I go with the prophets and apostles.

I think most Church members, when presented with a choice, will also agree with the prophets and apostles.

That's why the intellectuals don't want to give members a choice. They actively suppress information about the New York Cumorah in all their publications, presentations, and even in classes at BYU and in CES. They censor comments on their web pages that refer to the New York Cumorah, seek to prevent people from speaking about the New York Cumorah, and promote obfuscation and confusion on their web pages about Cumorah.

Eventually, that will change; thanks to the Internet, it is becoming more difficult for the intellectuals to prevent members of the Church from learning the truth. But in the meantime, you should think carefully and make up your own mind.

As always, if I've erred in any way on the facts in this post, let me know and I'll promptly correct any errors.
_____
* While most LDS intellectuals promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, I know of some who actually believe the prophets and apostles, but they don't speak out because of the united front of opposition they face from the Mesomaniacs. There are also some intellectuals who promote other non-New York Cumorahs, such as Cumorahs in Baja, Panama, Chile, etc. Plus there is the infamous BYU "abstract map" that teaches students that Cumorah is in a fictional fantasy land, which you can see here: http://bom.byu.edu/. This map is an obvious ruse for teaching the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory because it is based on the standard Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs interpretation of the text.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Visual persuasion--and presuasion

There is potential to reach a consensus about Book of Mormon historicity/geography through visual persuasion and presuasion. However, just the opposite is currently happening.

Tuesday I visited Temple Square to admire the exhibit of two-Cumorahs that repudiates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught in Letter VII.


This exhibit also repudiates what every prophet and apostle has taught about Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

Most LDS people prefer to follow the prophets instead of the intellectuals, so how have the intellectuals prevailed in pushing their theory?

Because of visual persuasion--and presuasion.
_____

The saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words." But for the Book of Mormon, a picture is worth 269,510 words (the number of words in the text).

Millions of visitors to Temple Square see this exhibit. Millions more see the ubiquitous painting of Christ visiting the Mayans, which is featured in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon, in chapels and media worldwide--and even on the Temple Square Instagram page.

Temple Square instagram page
Far more people (members, investigators, and the general public) see these images than will ever read the words in the Book of Mormon. But if people get around to actually reading the text, they will interpret it in a Mayan setting because of visual persuasion and visual presuasion.

On one level, these display and paintings are designed to persuade viewers that the Lord visited the ancient people in North America. The scenes are dramatic and interesting, no doubt. Perhaps they may persuade some people to read the text to learn about all these Mayan ruins and jungles.

(This was the same reason why Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, the Pratt brothers and others promoted the same things in the 1840s, but this zealous missionary idea was just as wrong then as it is now).

If and when people actually read the text, they find no references to jungles, massive stone temples, or any other descriptions of Mayan culture.

If they investigate further, they quickly discover that no non-LDS expert on Mayan culture finds any connection to the Book of Mormon.

They also discover that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and all their contemporaries and successors declared that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

Then they realize this entire Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was concocted by LDS intellectuals who have trained LDS students at BYU and in CES for decades--including the people who produced the art, media and displays.

This creates the cognitive dissonance that causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. It also causes investigators to stop meeting with missionaries.

When we were on Temple Square the other night, we passed a guy speaking with two of the sisters. He was asking them about archaeological evidence. Of course, they have no answer. They are defenseless, because our intellectuals have persuaded so many people that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.
_____

It is well known that people's ideas are influenced by what they see, even subconsciously. For example, if you make sure people pass by an American flag before you ask them about political questions, they will give more patriotic answers than if they don't see the flag first.

When you show Christ visiting Mayans before they read the Book of Mormon, they will "see" Mayan ruins and jungles even though the words don't appear in the text.

But then when they discover Letter VII and all the corroborating evidence that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught, they question what they've learned at the visitors centers and from the media and artwork, which they incorrectly attribute to an official Church position that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the "real" Hill Cumorah is in Mexico.
_____

Fortunately, many people who have left the Church or drifted into inactivity return to activity when they discover that the bizarre Mayan stuff was invented by intellectuals and never taught by the prophets. They are enthusiastic to discover there is evidence to support what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

But think how much more effective it would be to use visual persuasion and presuasion to support what Joseph and Oliver taught!

Fortunately, there are some examples on lds.org of this, such as the Scriptures Legacy video you can watch here: https://www.lds.org/church/news/new-church-video-honors-scriptures-legacy?lang=eng.

Christ visiting earthworks, not Mayan stone pyramids

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How we got to this point--and where to go from here

The purpose of this blog is to help all members of the Church reach a consensus about the Book of Mormon geography. I think most members are closer to a consensus than we realize.

Still, there is a lot of confusion in the Church about the Book of Mormon. I attribute this primarily to the intellectuals who disagree with the prophets and apostles about the location of the Hill Cumorah. 

In this post, I'll review how we got to this point and then offer suggestions for solving the problem.

I realize this is a long post--but there's a lot more I could say. Email me if you have questions.
_____

It has taken a lot of effort, involving denial and sophistry, to justify the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that there are two Cumorahs, with the "real Cumorah" being somewhere in southern Mexico. 

Or somewhere else, such as Baja California, Panama, Peru, Chile, etc.

As I explain below, the only real consensus the intellectuals have reached is that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

This narrative has been taught for decades at BYU and in CES, to the point where, in the minds of most members of the Church, it has become the default (yet unofficial) position of the Church. I explained this process in a recent post, here.

The truth is so much simpler. 

1. When he first appeared to Joseph Smith, Moroni told him that the record of the Nephites had been "written and deposited" not far from his home. This means Mormon and Moroni both lived in western New York when they abridged the Nephite and Jaredite records.

2. Mormon explained that "having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." (Mormon 6:6)

3. On multiple occasions, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery visited Mormon's depository of records in the Hill Cumorah in New York. For that reason, and in response to anti-Mormon claims that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon himself, they explained it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah. (Letter VII)

4. All of Joseph's contemporaries and Priesthood successors who have discussed Cumorah have affirmed this straightforward teaching, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

5. Knowing that Cumorah is in New York doesn't tell us everything about Book of Mormon geography, but it tells us what we need to know to be grounded in reality. Any proposed geography that doesn't put Cumorah in New York cannot be correct.

6. Because some intellectuals have rejected the prophets and apostles on this specific point, they are left standing "as it were in the air, high above the earth," with no foundation. (1 Nephi 8:26) Instead, they are left to their own devices, which has led to the massive and widespread confusion in the Church about the Book of Mormon.

How did we get to this point?
_____

I've discussed the history of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory in detail here.

Until the 1980s, there was no question about the location of Cumorah. Every one of Joseph's contemporaries accepted this, based on numerous details, some of which I mentioned above.* 

Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve spoke about the New York Cumorah in General Conference in the 1970s. The official edition of the Book of Mormon included photos of the New York Cumorah and the Arnold Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni, together, on top of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

But in the 1980s, the intellectuals changed the narrative.

In 1981, David A. Palmer published a book titled In Search of Cumorah which claimed that the Hill Cumorah could not be in New York after all. The book jacket explains that "The Cumorah of New York state is identified as 'Moroni's Cumorah,' where Moroni finally deposited the plates which were later uncovered and translated by Joseph Smith. The author makes a clear and convincing case for the belief that this area is not the same hill as 'Mormon's Cumorah,' where the last Nephite defense was staged."

Brother Palmer also wrote the entry on Cumorah in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (EOM), published in 1992 after many years of development. This enshrined his thesis as the quasi-official Church position, because although the EOM is not an official Church publication, BYU published it and groups such as FairMormon emphasize that Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Neal A. Maxwell, and Jeffrey R. Holland worked on the project. 

Brother Palmer's entry says this: 

"[The] 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. Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. 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. "

The only references in the Bibliography are to John Clark, David Palmer himself, and John L. Sorenson, all three of whom are deeply committed proponents of the Mesoamerican theory. The article doesn't cite or even mention Letter VII or any of the statements of the prophets and apostles who have affirmed the New York location of Cumorah.
____

Also in 1981, John L. Sorenson circulated a manuscript for his book, eventually published by Deseret Book in 1984, titled An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. (I participated in the peer review through an archaeologist friend of mine.) This book became the standard reference for Book of Mormon historicity and geography. Like many others, I was convinced by Brother Sorenson's research and arguments.

The editor of the Ensign became fascinated by the Mesoamerican theory. In conjunction with the publication of his book, Brother Sorenson published two articles in the Ensign about his theory. Part 1 of "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and its Scripture" was published in the September 1984 Ensign, available here. Part 2 was published in the October 1984 edition, available here.  

The articles set out a series of supposed "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. They encouraged further study. "The demonstrated congruence of Book of Mormon patterns with a vast amount of data on Mesoamerica, even without considering its agreement with Old World patterns, really ought to silence would-be commentators until they have carefully investigated what is now a complex body of information."

_____

In 1981, the Church also changed the artwork in the Book of Mormon, apparently to reflect this new narrative. I examined this in detail here. The Friberg painting of the New York Cumorah was deleted and replaced with the Tom Lovell painting of "Moroni Burying the Plates" by himself, a reflection of Brother Palmer's theory. 

While his New York Cumorah painting was removed, three of Friberg's Mesoamerican-themed paintings were retained. 

The John Scott painting "Jesus Christ visits the Americas," showing the Savior visiting a Mayan ruin with Chichen Itza in the background, was added. [Note: the url incorrectly labels this painting "Christ teaching Nephites."] This painting is now ubiquitous in the Church, appearing in chapels, temples, and visitors centers, even though it is anachronistic and contradicts the text itself. But far more people have seen this painting than have read the Book of Mormon.

Next came the visitors centers, which specifically teach the Palmer/Sorenson two-Cumorahs theory, as I've shown here.
_____

The question remains: Why did this narrative replace the consistent and specific teachings of the prophets and apostles over 150 years?

Basically, the intellectuals decided that the prophets and apostles were wrong.

The intellectuals relied on (i) the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles, incorrectly attributed to Joseph Smith, and (ii) the false idea that there is no archaeology to support the Book of Mormon in North America, when they should have just trusted the prophets and apostles in the first place.

Most of their discussions lately involve interpreting the text, but this is a fool's errand. Like most texts, the Book of Mormon is subject to nearly infinite interpretations. Once the intellectuals rejected the prophets and apostles (and the Doctrine and Covenants), they have had a heyday with the text, the same way Biblical scholars come up with infinite variations. There are thousands of Christians sects, all insisting their interpretation is correct, just as there are hundreds of theories of Book of Mormon geography. The LDS intellectuals have a "consensus" about their interpretation, but the only thing they really have in common is that Cumorah cannot be in New York. That's how we end up with models based in Baja, Mexico, Guatemala, Yucatan, Panama, Chile, Peru, etc.

IOW, the only real consensus the intellectuals have reached is that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Any interpretation of a text is a function of mental filters, usually driven by an agenda. In the case of the Book of Mormon, think of the difference between these two filters:

1. An interpretation that seeks to corroborate and support what Joseph, Oliver and all the other prophets and apostles have taught about Cumorah being in New York; or

2. An interpretation that seeks to establish a Mesoamerican setting, based on a two-Cumorahs theory that deems Joseph and Oliver and all the other prophets and apostles to be wrong; i.e., confused speculators who misled the Church.

Which filter would you apply? 

Which filter would you like to see the Church apply?

Accepting the New York Cumorah will not resolve all questions about Book of Mormon geography, but it will accomplish the main point because it will mean that members of the Church, including the intellectuals, will be united in supporting and sustaining the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

Let's turn to the reasons why the intellectuals decided to repudiate the prophets and apostles.

1. Times and Seasons articles. The 1842 Times and Seasons published several anonymous articles that linked the Book of Mormon to ruins in Central America. Because the boilerplate at the end of every issues from March through October listed Joseph Smith as Editor, Printer and Publisher, people assumed ever since that Joseph actually wrote, or at least approved of, these articles. IOW, they have assumed Joseph himself taught that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America.

To their credit, the intellectuals who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory originally thought they were vindicating Joseph Smith's statements, based on their assumption that Joseph wrote these anonymous articles.

However, the assumption was wrong.

I've written three heavily annotated books to explain why. My first book, The Lost City of Zarahemla, attracted some opposition from the Mesoamerican proponents. I responded in detail, but also incorporated their suggestions in a second edition. Then I published the rest of my research in Brought to Light and The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith.  

Joseph had nothing to do with these anonymous articles; he had little to do with the Times and Seasons at all. (Anyone who thinks the boilerplate means Joseph actually edited the newspaper must also believe Joseph actually printed the newspaper. Joseph was far too busy during 1842 to spend his time on either activity.) 

Instead, it was William Smith who was editing both the Times and Seasons and the Wasp, likely with the assistance of W.W. Phelps. They were publishing material sent by contributors, primarily Benjamin Winchester. 

I've been informed that these Times and Seasons articles have been a major factor for Church leaders to accept the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. Now that we understand the history better--now that we know Joseph had nothing to do with them--that misdirection should no longer be a factor.

Plus, we now know that Joseph wrote the Wentworth letter by referring to Oliver's eight historical letters and Orson Pratt's pamphlet, "A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions." Orson Pratt spend several pages discussing his hemispheric model, including Central America. Joseph deleted Orson's speculation and instead declared that the remnant of Lehi's people "are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

[Note: You can read the entire Wentworth letter in the Ensign here. However, the influence of the intellectuals is so pervasive that the lesson manual, Teaching of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, actually deleted this passage from the chapter on the Wentworth Letter. Joseph had been concerned that Mr. Wentworth might not publish his article entire, but he didn't need to worry about Mr. Wentworth; he needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee that is dominated by people who believe the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.]

Joseph's contemporaries accepted the New York Cumorah, but they were enthusiastic about the ruins in Central America so they disregarded his declaration about the Indians in the United States. They disregarded the revelations (D&C 28, 30, 32) that identified the Lamanites as the tribes living in the United States. Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and the Pratt brothers, all close friends and missionary companions who wrote and published profusely, shared a missionary zeal for linking the Book of Mormon to exciting finds in Central America. But Joseph never once shared their enthusiasm and the idea that he did has led intellectuals to reject what Joseph and Oliver actually taught about the Hill Cumorah.

This is a tragic mistake that can be easily rectified by returning to the teachings of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah.

As a follow-up question, we wonder, why haven't the intellectuals made the change? 

Many, if not all, of them now recognize Joseph didn't write the Times and Seasons articles. (This is a relief for many people, because the articles themselves bordered on absurdity.) Some now say these articles were never the basis of their focus on Mesoamerica, a claim that ignores the intellectual history of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. 

Actually, I'm fine with the revisionist history; i.e., if the intellectuals want to say the articles had nothing to do with their theory, then let's correct the traditional history and move on. I've asked the Church History department to do just that. We'll see what happens. As of today, there are still notes in the Joseph Smith Papers that reflect the traditional, and false, assumption that Joseph wrote the anonymous articles and was enthusiastic about Mesoamerica.

There is a lingering intellectual legacy tied to these articles. Even if everyone agrees that Joseph didn't write or edit them, the articles fed the narrative that Joseph didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and merely speculated about its setting. 

LDS intellectuals taught this theory to the world at the Library of Congress in 2005, which I discussed here.  

This theory that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah and changed his mind later in life is one of the rationales for rejecting Letter VII, as I discussed here

It's the basis for rejecting Oliver Cowdery, who was the ordained Assistant President of the Church when he wrote Letter VII.

It's the basis for rejecting David Whitmer's testimony, which he repeated multiple times, about the messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah.

It's also the rationale for rejecting what Brigham Young taught in 1877 when he was reorganizing the Priesthood and introducing temple ordinances and doing everything he could to put the Church on the right course before he died. I discussed that here

IOW, correcting the false assumption that Joseph wrote the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles must include a rejection of the equally false assumption that Joseph was a confused speculator who misled the Church. 

2. The archaeology question. LDS intellectuals have persuaded themselves that the New York hill (which they don't even like to refer to as Cumorah) is a "clean hill," meaning devoid of artifacts that corroborate the New York setting. I've addressed this in several posts herehere, here, and here.

I don't think archaeology, by itself, will lead to consensus. Archaeology is more an interpretive art than a hard science, and it is the subjectivity of the interpretation that leads to disagreement. This is especially true where the expectations themselves vary so dramatically.

I think it's more important to support and sustain the prophets and apostles, because faith precedes the miracle and we receive no witness until after the trial of our faith. 

Nevertheless, there is abundant archaeological evidence that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah. 

I'll discuss it in more detail once we all agree to first support and sustain the prophets and apostles. 

For now, I'll just mention that one of the problems we've seen involves our expectations and misreading of the text. To reach a consensus about archaeology, we must first reach a consensus about our expectations. 

Failing that, we must be willing to adjust our expectations in light of the archaeological evidence.

For example, were two million Jaredites killed at Cumorah, or less than 10,000? 

I think the number is less than 10,000, which obviously would leave a different archaeological record than 2 million dead. 

I addressed that here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/08/question-about-numbers-at-cumorah.html.

The intellectuals have also concluded that Cumorah cannot be in New York because of weather, lack of volcanoes, etc. These are all red herrings, created out of whole cloth as confirmation bias to support the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. They are, in a word, ridiculous, especially when framed as reasons to reject the prophets and apostles.

_____

As I said at the beginning, I realize this is a long post--but there's a lot more I could say. Email me if you have questions.

_____

*Here are some of the details:

1. Joseph learned the name Cumorah from Moroni before he ever obtained the plates. 

2. Joseph and Oliver learned about Cumorah when they translated the text. 

3. David Whitmer learned about Cumorah in 1829 when, on the road from Harmony to Fayette, he met the divine messenger who was taking the Harmony plates back to Cumorah. (The messenger returned these plates to Cumorah because Joseph and Oliver had translated all of them, except the sealed portion. The Lord had directed them to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10), which Joseph did not yet have. He didn't get those until he arrived in Fayette.)

4. Joseph and Oliver and others visited Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah, as Brigham Young and others explained. 

5. David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery both said the plates were no longer in Cumorah. David said they were "not far from there," however, which suggests that Joseph, Oliver and others moved the depository to another location. (I discuss all this in detail elsewhere.)