The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Consensus is an information problem--and it can be solved

Scott Adams recently explained why he thinks most problems are information problems:

"I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise. For example, unemployment is largely (but not entirely) a problem of people not knowing where to find jobs, as opposed to no jobs existing. I could give you lots of other examples where information would solve a major problem, but today I want to focus on one: Stopping terrorism."

I agree with Adams, but I'm going to focus on a different topic.

The question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to a simple threshold choice:

Do you believe Cumorah is in New York?
Do you believe Cumorah is not in New York?

Your answer depends on your opinion about Letter VII:

Do you believe Letter VII is true? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph told the truth when they said Cumorah is in New York.)
Do you believe Letter VII is false? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.)

Obviously, these straightforward questions make a lot of people uncomfortable (mainly those who advocate and teach the Mesoamerican and other two-Cumorahs theories). The way the Mesomania scholars and educators deal with these question is by avoidance.

They simply suppress Letter VII.

That's why you can't find it referenced in any of their materials, or even in the Ensign.

Now that thousands of LDS people have read Letter VII for the first time (and more and more are discovering it every day), the Mesomania scholars and educators have embarked on an effort to cast doubt on Letter VII. (I discussed their efforts in this post.) They are doubling down on their long-held, but mostly concealed, view that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

But most members of the Church don't know it.

At BYU at least, they are trying to avoid the question by using an "abstract map," but this is merely another euphemism for rejecting Letter VII.

I'm optimistic that information can solve the problem.

Let's say you're a parent and you're trusting LDS scholars and educators at any of the BYU campuses or in CES (seminary and institute).

But you're also wary of the two-Cumorahs theory because you know, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned, that this theory causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.

So you want to know if the people teaching your children accept or reject Letter VII and the New York Cumorah.

But you can't get the information, so you're running blind.

You know that anyone who believes, promotes, or teaches the Mesoamerican theory rejects Letter VII and all that entails, but you can't know ahead of time what your students' teachers think, and by the time your kids are enrolled, it's too late to find out.

The solution, in my view, is full disclosure.

I'd like to see every BYU and CES instructor and scholar clearly state whether he/she accepts or rejects Letter VII. 

(For that matter, I'd like to see every Sunday School teacher, youth leader/teacher, and even Primary teacher take a stand, because they are doing it implicitly anyway when they show Mesoamerican artwork. It would be interesting to have every missionary take a stand, too.)

I realize this sounds like a litmus test or a catechism, but that's not the intent. It's not passing judgment. As I've always said, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want, just so long as it's an informed choice.

And the way things have been for the last few decades has not given people informed choices.

Even today, the citation cartel (BYU Studies, Interpreter, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon, Meridian Magazine, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, etc.) promote solely the Mesoamerican theory that enshrines the two-Cumorahs theory and rejects Letter VII.

Despite the efforts of the citation cartel, not everyone who teaches at BYU or CES rejects Letter VII and the New York Cumorah. But parents and students deserve to know what faculty members believe on this topic.

Because full disclosure is unlikely, I recommend that parents and students ask faculty, up front, whether they accept or reject Letter VII.

It's not a minor question. One's opinion on Letter VII affects what one teaches about Church history, the Book of Mormon, and the reliability of the Three Witness and Joseph Smith himself.

You probably already see what impact full disclosure would have. Armed with the information about an instructor's belief about Letter VII, few parents would send their kids to be taught by people who think Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.

In short time, the advocates of the Mesoamerican theory would have no students.

The problem would resolve itself and we'd reach consensus.

Actually, I think this may be the only way to reach consensus on Book of Mormon geography.

Some people (mainly Mesomania scholars and educators) think I'm making too big a deal about Letter VII. But when we consider that Joseph Smith not only helped write it, but had it copied into his personal history and directed its republication at least twice, it is really a uniquely important document.

Apart from the canonized revelations, there is no material that Joseph made sure every member of the Church knew about other than Oliver Cowdery's historical letters, including Letter VII. Letter VII was not an obscure oddity in Church history, the way Mesomania scholars and educators seek to portray it. Letter VII was a basic foundation for understanding Church history and the Book of Mormon, and it should be as familiar to LDS today as it was during Joseph's lifetime.

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