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

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon.

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

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

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

The article continues:

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

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

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

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

The article continues:

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

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

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

Now, what is the solution?

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

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

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

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

The revelation continues:

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

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

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

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