contention

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

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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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