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, December 24, 2018

Peace, love, and unity

Here's hoping that in 2019, everyone interested in the Book of Mormon and the Restoration can find peace, love and unity as we all strive to move the work forward.

I discussed this a while back, here:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"Consensus" is not a great cause

From a speech by Margaret Thatcher:

When I asked one of my Commonwealth colleagues at this Conference why he kept saying that there was a “consensus” on a certain matter, another replied in a flash “consensus is the word you use when you can't get agreement” ! 
To me consensus seems to be —the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no-one believes, but to which no-one objects. —the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.
What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

How consensus persists, even when wrong

I saw this on twitter:

How consensus works :

Scientist A believes something because he thinks scientist B believes it.
Scientist B believes something because he thinks scientist C believes it.
Scientist C believes something because he thinks scientist A believes it.

repeat loop endlessly .....


This describes the way the M2C "consensus" operates. It's another version of the academic cycle:

One way to break the cycle is for people to think for themselves. But to do that, they need accurate and complete information.

So long as the M2C citation cartel engages in censorship, people will not be able to make informed decisions and thereby break the endless consensus loop.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Why does M2C continue to refuse unity?

The other night we went out with the missionaries to visit a family. I let everyone out of the car because I have to park right next to the wall on the narrow street so cars can pass by. While the missionaries were waiting for me to park, a many walked up and asked if they were Mormon missionaries. They said they were. He explained he was a member but had not been to Church in years. He wanted to come back and asked if they had a Book of Mormon. They didn't have a physical one, but promised to bring him one to Church. He said he would come this Sunday. He didn't have a phone, and had apparently moved long ago, so his Church records were not up to date. The missionaries accompanied him to his house down the street and had a good visit before returning for our previously scheduled appointment.

This is just the latest example of how the Lord works with his missionaries. It's no coincidence that we arrived at this street just at the moment when this long-lost member of the Church happened to be walking by. In fact, we were a little late for our appointment because google maps had taken us through narrow, windy, unlit streets at night in an area where I had never driven before. And, of course, I'm driving a stick-shift car on the left side of the road.

This is also an example of how the Lord works with those who serve him. These wonderful Elders were in the right place at the right time, despite the many obstacles that would have made it easier to not go there that night.

Plus, our scheduled visit was awesome.

The point is, I think the Lord wants to bless everyone involved with sharing and testifying about the Book of Mormon.

For years, I have sought to work with the M2C advocates, including the M2C citation cartel. I think it's counterproductive to have online debates, but they refuse to meet and discuss these things privately. They refuse to inform members of the Church about alternatives to M2C.

In my view, they are more concerned about defending their M2C agenda than anything else.

I'm told some of them are offended by my blog posts and books, but they know perfectly well that I have always wanted to work with them and sort out all these issues. We can agree to disagree, but we can work together anyway.

If they want to.

I appeal to them, once again, to work as colleagues on the issues of the Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

The battle M2C wants

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why doesn't the world know?

Last week on a missionary split here in Africa we visited an awesome man who is investigating the Church and who made some profound statements. Our entire conversation was in French, but I'll summarize the key points.

The missionaries found this individual by doing door-to-door contacting.

He said he had been interested in religion a long time. He had studied the Bible and gone to several churches. But in his entire life, he had never heard that there is a prophet alive today. He had never heard of the Book of Mormon.

He also said that he thinks there are many people in this country who would be excited to learn about this and who would join the Church.

Then he asked, "Why aren't you telling people? Why doesn't the world know?"

I explained that the Elder I was with had come on his mission specifically to tell people about it.

"But I'm just one person who happened to be home when the missionaries knocked on my door. What about the rest of the world? Why aren't you telling everyone about this?"

I've wondered about that question for a long time, but when this investigator posed it, it caused me to reflect some more.

Why does such important information remain unknown to most people on Earth?*

One reason is that members of the Church are reluctant to talk about their beliefs. There are as many reasons as there are individuals, but one common reason is hesitation about the Book of Mormon.

BYU's fantasy map of the
Book of Mormon
There is a lot of confusion about the Book of Mormon among Church members. Current generations have been taught at BYU and CES to think of the Book of Mormon in terms of a fantasy world. Older generations, such as mine, were taught to think of it in terms of Mesoamerica.

Prior generations also considered a variety of alternatives, but they had one common pin in the map: the New York Cumorah. They were united in accepting what the prophets and apostles had taught about the Hill Cumorah in western New York.

Today's Church members don't know what to think. 

Do we believe the prophets and apostles? Do we believe the M2C scholars? Do we believe the fantasy maps of CES and BYU?

Is insisting that it doesn't matter the only option, when obviously it does matter to most people in the world?

This uncertainty has a serious impact on missionary work.

Every missionary knows that one of the most common questions posed by people who are introduced to the Book of Mormon is, "Where did these events take place?"

As it stands right now, missionaries and members can only say, "Somewhere in the Americas, but we don't know where."

That is such an implausible response that I'm always amazed when people continue investigating anyway.

Not amazed, really. The Spirit will bear witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon even when people are skeptical about it's historicity. But skepticism is a serious hurdle, as we can tell from the tiny percentage of people who join the Church and remain faithful.

Worse, of course, is the response our M2C intellectuals advocate; i.e., that the Book of Mormon events took place in Central America. Any investigator with access to the Internet is going to discover in less than five minutes such web pages as this:

M2C is not only implausible because it's based on illusory evidence and confirmation bias, but because it contradicts the teachings of the very prophets and apostles whom the missionaries are encouraging the investigators to accept. Most people will wonder why they should accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles when intellectuals in the Church repudiate them.

Contrast this to the early days of the Church, when Apostles went on their mission to England and converted more people (5,000) than they had copies of the Book of Mormon (3,000). Elder Lorenzo Snow gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1841. By 1850, there were more Church members in Britain than in the U.S., even after 7,500 people had emigrated to the U.S. from the U.K.

There are many reasons for this missionary success, but one surely was the way the Apostles grounded the Book of Mormon in the real world. They explained that Cumorah was in New York and that there was plenty of evidence of ancient civilizations in the New World.**

First volume of the
Millennial Star
Beginning with the second issue of the Millennial Star in 1840, Parley P. Pratt published President Cowdery's historical essays under the heading, "A Remarkable Vision."

You can read a digital copy of Letter VII in the October 1840 issue of the Millennial Star here:

Go to that link and scroll down to record 16, which is page 152, to read about the New York Cumorah.

In response to strong demand for President Cowdery's letters, early Church leaders in England published a pamphlet that consisted entirely of Oliver's eight letters.

In Nauvoo, New York City, and Philadelphia, Church newspapers republished Letter VII so everyone, both members and non-members, at least learned about the New York Cumorah.

When he wrote Letter VII, President Cowdery was responding to claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction. He knew the truth because he, Joseph and others had actually visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in that hill in New York where Joseph found the plates in Moroni's stone box. That should have resolved this question long ago.

Imagine how much more effective the message of the Restoration would be if the entire Church were united on accepting the clear, consistent, and persistent teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. 

*When we lived in Utah, we had the sense that everyone knew about the Church, the Book of Mormon, etc. Everywhere I've lived in the U.S. (California, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Illinois, Tennessee, New York) is about the same. Most Americans know at least something about "Mormons" if only from their study of American history and the settlement of the west.

I've lived in Europe for 8 years and in Asia for nearly 2 years. Now I live in Africa. I've visited 70 countries and every continent, and I've worked in a dozen or more countries. Outside the U.S., the story is the same. Few people have heard of Mormons, unless it's because of polygamy or unless they happen to know a member of the Church. Thanks to the Broadway show, many people in major cities know about the Book of Mormon. But far, far fewer have any idea of the existence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And almost nobody knows there is a living prophet today. That is changing thanks to media coverage of President Nelson's visits in many countries, but as he said, he can't go everywhere. And the message has difficult breaking through.

Right here where we live, we constantly see banners featuring images of religious leaders who are visiting town, holding conferences, selling books, etc. They all profess to represent God in some way, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or something else.

**The Pratt brothers, Orson and Parley, often said that the indigenous people throughout Latin America were descendants of Lehi, which led to the widespread adoption of this notion. What most Church members forget is that Joseph Smith edited out those theories when he wrote the Wentworth letter. His declaration in that letter that the remnant of Lehi's people are the Indians that now (1842) live in this country (the U.S.) should have ended the speculation, but historians and scholars have ignored what he said. In fact, some M2C intellectuals have insisted that when Joseph wrote "this country" he was actually referring to Central America!

Worse, the Correlation Department edited the Wentworth letter to remove Joseph's identification of the remnant of Lehi's descendants. Current members of the Church and future generations will never learn what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught on this important topic, solely because of the influence of the M2C intellectuals.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Correcting an error

In Canada recently, President Nelson made this comment about the name of the Church:

“We’re correcting an error that has crept in over the ages.”

When I read that I thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome to correct another error that has crept in? The error being the repudiation by the M2C intellectuals of the prophets' consistent and persistent teaching that the Hill Cumorah is in New York."

We'll see.

There's still time for the M2C intellectuals to correct the error, but they don't seem to be inclined to do so.

Monday, August 20, 2018

In our hearts first

In my passport I noticed this quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.

I'd like to paraphrase that for the Church.

Whatever Latter-day Saints hope to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of the Latter-day Saints. 

This applies to every aspect of establishing Zion. Because this blog focuses on the Book of Mormon, I'll narrow the quotation even more: If we expect the world to accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, we Latter-day Saints better accept its divine authenticity first. 

Because I think we have to accept the prophets to establish the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, this means we as Latter-day Saints should all embrace the teachings of the prophets that Cumorah is in New York.

Also, because the M2C intellectuals repudiate the prophets regarding the New York Cumorah, I think M2C is impeding our efforts to take the Book of Mormon to the world.

Imagine if every member of the Church was aligned with the prophets on the Cumorah question. That would be one connection between the Book of Mormon and the actual New World that would unify our message to the world about the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

M2C in the Joseph Smith Papers - maps

One obstacle to consensus is lack of awareness of bias.

M2C is so pervasive that most LDS scholars don't even realize how deeply it has permeated their worldview. Like a fish that doesn't know what water is until it is caught and yanked into the atmosphere, LDS scholars take M2C for granted and never challenge their assumptions.

I've shown examples of this from the Joseph Smith Papers before, but it's been a while so it's time to look at them again, along with some new examples.

The first one is a map. You can see it here:

This is the map and explanation:

Notice the heading: "Mission to the Indians."

The headings to D&C 28, 30, and 32, which were the revelations calling these brethren on their mission, reflect the language used in the revelations.

We don't read about a mission to the Indians. Instead, we read this:

D&C 28 -  8–10, Oliver Cowdery is to preach to the Lamanites;

D&C 30 - 5–8, Peter Whitmer Jr. is to accompany Oliver Cowdery on a mission to the Lamanites

D&C 32 - 1–3, Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson are called to preach to the Lamanites and to accompany Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr.

The heading to D&C 32 even says this:

Great interest and desires were felt by the elders respecting the Lamanites, of whose predicted blessings the Church had learned from the Book of Mormon. 

According to M2C, the "real" Lamanites are the Mayans, who have little genetic or anthropological connection to the tribes in the Northeastern U.S.

Yet the Lord designated the tribes in New York, Ohio and the Midwest as Lamanites. To this day, these are the only people formally designated by revelation as Lamanites.

Notice how, in the explanation of the map, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers decided to put the scriptural language in quotations. This frames it as a folk tradition, as if to say, the so-called Lamanites. Meanwhile, the heading, in much larger print, identifies the people simply as Indians.

I realize this may seem a subtle, nit-picking complaint, but it is typical of how the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers are rewriting Church history to accommodate M2C.

Monday, August 13, 2018

M2C manipulation

There's a nice piece at Vanity Fair about how Stephen Miller is manipulating the federal government to accomplish is personal objectives. It reminded me of the way the M2C intellectuals are manipulating the Church to promote M2C by framing the issue to their advantage.

Here's a key paragraph:

Perhaps as significantly, sources say, Miller has been able to help frame the issue for Trump, both by communicating the administration’s policies to the media and by quietly suppressing information that doesn’t comport with his narrative. “He claims to be speaking for the president all while manipulating the information the president receives, so the president never hears alternative views or arguments.

The M2C intellectuals have successfully misled their students and Church employees into thinking there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon in New York or anywhere in the United States. Another passage from the article explains how Miller uses the same technique:

When the Department of Health and Human Services completed a report that found refugees had boosted government revenues by $63 billion over the past decade, for instance, Miller reportedly had the study suppressed. “The president believes refugees cost more, and the results of this study shouldn’t embarrass the president,” he reportedly instructed officials at the agency. (At the time, White House spokesperson Raj Shah dismissed the report as a leak “delivered by someone with an ideological agenda” and insisted refugees are “not a net benefit to the U.S. economy.”)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

How long halt ye between two opinions?

Today in Sunday School we discussed Elijah and the famous verse, 1 Kings 18:21. This chapter relates the way in which Elijah generated a consensus among the people of Israel regarding the truthfulness of what the prophet Elijah taught.

The verse reads:

"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."

Isaiah and the priests of Baal
That led to the famous showdown between Elijah and the priests of Baal.

One of the most fascinating elements of this passage is that the people had no answer. They didn't know whom to follow.

Why were they so confused?

On the one hand, they had the prophet of God.

But on the other hand, they had the popular leaders, the priests of Baal who purported to speak for God, who taught the people that the prophets were wrong, just as the M2C scholars are doing today.

The verse could be rephrased this way:

"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the prophets be true, follow them: but if the M2C scholars [be true], then follow them. And the people answered him not a word."

We each get to choose.

We each must choose.

[Note: the M2C intellectuals will object that I'm comparing them to the priests of Baal because they're entire approach depends on obfuscation and confusion. True, I am comparing them to the priests of Baal, but only in a limited sense. That's how we always apply the scriptures to our own circumstances. Here, I'm limiting the comparison to the question of whether to follow the prophets or to repudiate the prophets. I'm not comparing M2C to all the things the priests of Baal taught and practiced, but the M2C intellectuals openly try to get members of the Church to reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.]

How long will members of the Church continue to halt between the two geographical models?

It's not a difficult choice. Whichever model you choose, you can confirm your bias by interpreting the text to match your model and by considering relevant archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc. that confirms your bias.

Really, the only difference is whether you agree with or disagree with the prophets.

Either Cumorah is in New York, as the prophets have consistently and persistently taught, or it's elsewhere, in which case it doesn't really matter much where it is, does it? 

If the prophets have been wrong all along, we might as well accept the fantasy maps currently being taught to LDS youth by CES and BYU. 

Inevitably and irreversibly, that will lead to the metaphorical interpretation of the Book of Mormon, which seems to be the ultimate objective of the M2C scholars anyway (although they claim otherwise).

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Self image and ideas

One of the big obstacles to reaching consensus is taking offense when someone questions, challenges, or criticizes our ideas.

Joseph Epstein has a wonderful piece in the Wall St. Journal today. Although he was writing specifically about politics, his point applies very well to religious discussions.

The subtitle of his article is "Our self-image is no so bound up in ideology that any disagreement feels like a personal attack."

Think of a missionary sharing the gospel. Many investigators will take the mere existence of a missionary from another church as a criticism of his/her own beliefs. Because our self-image is "bound up in ideology," the investigator may feel offended (or personally attacked) whenever the missionary offers a "better" religion, such as the "fullness of the gospel" which implies the investigator doesn't have the fullness. The missionary may feel personally attacked when others oppose what he/she is teaching.

Even within the Church, people conflate their ideological beliefs with their self-image. People who have strong views on issues of Church History or Book of Mormon geography often consider these views as part of their self-image and therefore become defensive when others disagree with their views.

Recognizing this would go a long way to resolving the problem.

Here are excerpts from Epstein's piece:

There’s Too Much Virtue in Politics

Our self-image is now so bound up in ideology that any disagreement feels like a personal attack.

Here is an excerpt that gets to the heart of his argument:

When politics isn’t a quest for personal gain or power, it’s a clash of virtues. Look behind a person’s political views and you will discover his idealized picture of himself. The liberal sees his virtue in speaking up for the underdog, hungering for social justice, showing a spirit of empathy. The conservative finds his virtue in advocating liberty and maximal freedom as most likely to induce achievement, prosperity, and, most important, strong character. ...
The main point is that in declaring my politics I am declaring my virtue, so when you oppose my politics you oppose my highest view of myself. This explains why political arguments so quickly get to the shouting stage. If you disagree with me about a candidate or policy, you are in effect telling me that I am (pick one) selfish, naive, insensitive, foolish. Disagree with my politics, and you offend, insult, attack me personally.

I hope everyone can recognize that our ideas are not us.

We all disagree with others about various issues. Usually people can't even agree on the relevant facts because we all engage in confirmation bias. We filter out information that doesn't confirm our biases. We actually perceive the world differently because our of these psychological filters.

But recognition is the first step to resolution. 

When it comes to matters of Church history and the Book of Mormon, everyone is on the same "team" in the sense of being a faithful member of the Church who wants to do good, live the Gospel, and share our faith in Christ.

But that doesn't make us immune from conflating our self image with our ideas.

In my view, one of the most important roles of a prophet is to break through confirmation bias. That's why, for me, it is foolish to repudiate what the prophets have taught, including what they've taught about the hill Cumorah in New York.

The sooner we reach consensus that the prophets teach the truth, the sooner we'll reach consensus about the New York Cumorah. And from there, the rest is easy.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sunk costs - of mice and men

The academic cycle that must be
disrupted to stop M2C
In May I posted comments about how certain intellectuals continue to promote M2C because of sunk costs; i.e., they've invested so much time, effort and money into M2C that they feel compelled to stick with it, even to the point of repudiating the prophets they otherwise revere.

This is another manifestation of the academic cycle; i.e., M2C is perpetuated by persuading new students to invest in M2C so they, too, succumb to the sunk cost fallacy.

The sunk cost rationale is irrational, of course.
One explanation puts it this way:

The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

In the context of M2C, the sunk cost fallacy arises when we have BYU/CES teachers and COB employees who have long taught and promoted M2C. They are responsible for imprinting M2C on the minds of thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints--as well as thousands who have lost their faith in the Book of Mormon because of the two-Cumorahs theory, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

These teachers and employees have made tremendous emotional investments in M2C. Every year, these teachers at BYU/CES are making even greater emotional investments as they teach their students that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

We recognize that such investments would make it very difficult for the BYU/CES teachers to change their mind, but one would think they would nevertheless value the teachings of the prophets over their own M2C ideology.

Now there's a study that shows how other species, including mice, are affected by sunk costs. This suggests that the sunk cost fallacy has such a deep impact on the BYU/CES/COB employees that they actually cannot adjust their thinking.

They have sunk so many costs into M2C that they literally cannot change their minds.

Here is the abstract of the article. Look how well it explains M2C:

Sunk costs are irrecoverable investments that should not influence decisions, because decisions should be made on the basis of expected future consequences. Both human and nonhuman animals can show sensitivity to sunk costs, but reports from across species are inconsistent. In a temporal context, a sensitivity to sunk costs arises when an individual resists ending an activity, even if it seems unproductive, because of the time already invested. In two parallel foraging tasks that we designed, we found that mice, rats, and humans show similar sensitivities to sunk costs in their decision-making. Unexpectedly, sensitivity to time invested accrued only after an initial decision had been made. These findings suggest that sensitivity to temporal sunk costs lies in a vulnerability distinct from deliberation processes and that this distinction is present across species.

The "initial decision" in this case is the M2C dogma that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, that there are "two Cumorahs," and that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah being the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

Having made their decision, the M2C intellectuals have a sunk cost that influences future decisions, including the decision whether or not to repudiate the prophets.

Another way to look at this is that M2C is not the product of a deliberation process. It's a product of an initial decision, usually based on what a trusted teacher claimed, followed by investment of time, energy and reputation.

These sunk costs prevent M2C intellectuals from changing their minds in response to the teachings of the prophets and the abundant evidence in North America that corroborates what the prophets have taught, beginning with Letter VII.

While we understand how powerful the sunk cost fallacy is, and we empathize with the M2C intellectuals who are trapped by this thinking, we are not bound by compassion to simply accept their teachings. The sunk cost fallacy makes it all the more important for us to break the academic cycle that perpetuates M2C so that future generations do not succumb to the sunk cost fallacy.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Examples of M2C confirmation bias

Literally everything you read about M2C is confirmation bias.

When we analyze what these M2C intellectuals are saying, we realize why so few people in the world take the Book of Mormon seriously. 

M2C is a major impediment to missionary and reactivation work. We can remove the impediment and give people everywhere a fair chance to accept the Book of Mormon, but only if we recognize what these M2C intellectuals are doing.

M2C scholars have a list of justifications for their repudiation of the prophets.

For example, I've addressed a recent list of justifications here:

Among the rationalizations are these "correspondences" between ancient Mayan civilization and the Book of Mormon:

1. Cities.
2. Flags, banners, etc.
3. Volcanoes.
4. Cutting off arms.
5. "Requirements" from the text, such as these from BMAF/Book of Mormon Central America:

BMAF supports a Mesoamerican context for the major Book of Mormon sites. Other locations may meet some of the following criteria, but only Mesoamerica meets all these elements required by the book itself.  This list of criteria is not a cafeteria list.  Any Book of Mormon lands proposal must be able to demonstrate all.

  A Narrow Neck of land and 4 seas (east, west, north, and south)
  A major river running south to north from a narrow strip of wilderness
  A high civilization with cities, kings, artisans, military, and priests
  An agricultural base large enough to support several millions of people
  A highly literate (written language) society with scribes as important officers
  Functional calendar and dating systems
  A merchant class using weights and measures
  Engineers to build houses, temples, towers, and highways using cement
  Highly skilled craftsmen working with precious metals and stonework
  A warrior society involved in large battles using trained soldiers and sophisticated fortifications
  Legends of a white, bearded God

Most people outside the M2C bubble easily recognize the circular reasoning here. The M2C intellectuals concoct a set of "criteria" based on Mesoamerica, not the text, and then transform these "criteria" into requirements. Let's look at each one, starting with the BMAF list.

The "narrow neck of land" is mentioned exactly once, in Ether 10:20. It's a description of the location of a great Jaredite city. But M2C conflates this passage with other passages that use different terms.

Nowhere does the text say "a major river" runs south to north. That said, there is a north-flowing river right in North America that M2C intellectuals don't know about.

A "high civilization" is ubiquitous in human history, including in North America.

The Book of Mormon never claims there were millions of Nephites. The largest enumerated army was only 42,000 (Mormon 2:9), and this was after the Nephites had been driven out of their lands and were collected together in one body. It was a time of blood and carnage, a time for "all hands on deck." Plus, we can look at the Bible for comparison. The Book of Mormon refers to a few places as "great cities." One is Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4; 2:13; 10:3; 11:13), which had a population of only around 25,000 when Lehi lived there. There is the "great city" Zarahemla. There is the great city of Ammonihah (Alma 16:9). There is Amulon's great city also called Jerusalem (Alma 21:2). And there are unnamed "great cities" round about (Helaman 7:22). These suggest a Nephite population of a couple of hundred thousand at most. Of course, the Nephite population could have been much larger, but there's nothing in the text that requires or even implies that. (Ether 15:2, which refers to two millions of mighty men who had already being slain, probably refers to the entire history of Coriantumr's people because Coriantumr was reflecting on what Ether had told him.)

The written language was expressly not Mayan, and from Enos through Moroni, the prophets explained that the Lamanites sought to destroy the Nephite records. That's why Mormon had to hide them in the depository in the hill Cumorah. Any society with abundant ancient written records cannot, by definition, be a Nephite society.

Calendars and dating systems are ubiquitous in human society. In North America, ancient people created earthworks that aligned with celestial events for this purpose.

Systems of weights and measures are ubiquitous among humans.

Cement is mentioned only briefly in Helaman 3 because the Nephites preferred to build with wood and earth. The text never mentions building with stone and cement, only with wood and cement. The only known Nephite cement is the material Moroni used to construct the stone box on the hill Cumorah in western New York.

Most human societies feature works of precious metal and stone, including those in North America.

Warfare and fortifications are ubiquitous among human societies, including in North America.

Legends of a white, bearded God... Seriously?

Now let's look at the other items.

1. Cities. The Book of Mormon refers to cities, villages and towns. What's the distinction among these terms?

When we assess Book of Mormon terminology, we look at the 1828 Webster's Dictionary and the usage in the King James Bible (references at the end of this post).

A "city" is a collection of buildings protected by a wall. (Towns and villages lacked walls.) In England, it was a community that had a bishop and a cathedral. This definition is interesting because there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla, which the text says are "many churches" (Mosiah 25:22-23). Does that mean that "many cities" are actually "seven cities" or an equally small number? In Alma 51:26, a list of six cities is called "many cities."

We can't know for sure what the Nephites considered a city, or how many cities there were. But we do know that the indigenous people in North America built walls of wood and earth around their communities, which qualifies as cities, and there were many of these.

2. Flags, banners, etc. The Book of Mormon refers to the title of liberty, and Mayan culture also had flags or banners. But what human societies does not have flags or banners?

3. Volcanoes. M2C intellectuals insist that the destruction in 3 Nephi could only have been caused by volcanoes, but the text never mentions volcanoes. In reality, the destruction could only have been caused in Mesoamerica by volcanoes, but in North America, the destruction not only theoretically could have been caused by earthquakes; we have actual recorded accounts of such destruction taking place in the Mississippi river valley.

4. Cutting off arms. There are Mayan descriptions of cutting off arms. But this is a widespread practice in human societiesTrophy taking is ubiquitous among human societies. It's an ancient custom. Arm-taking specifically has been found in France (, among the Timucua Indians of Florida, etc. Herodotus described the practice among the Scythians. It's part of the mythology of the Ossetians (Caucasus mountains). It still occurs today among tribal wars in Africa. In ancient Egypt, they cut off arms to prove to the Pharoah how many enemies they killed, until the Pharoah ordered them to produce genitals to get a more accurate count (I've seen the stone engraving of amputated genitals near Karnak). Even in the Afghan war, the U.S. military collected body parts to get counts of the enemy dead. They Cheyenne Indians identified themselves with a sign meaning "cut arms," referring to a practice of cutting strips of skin from their arms as a sacrifice, which has ancient origins. In the Book of Mormon there is only one account, and it was not even part of a war; Ammon was "disarming" his enemies because that was the only way to stop them. We don't have any accounts of Nephites or Lamanites severing and collecting arms as war trophies. But we do have scalping (Alma 44) specifically as a war trophy, a common practice among the North American Indians that the Lord designated as Lamanites.

You can do the same analysis for any of the "correspondences" cited by M2C intellectuals.

This is not to show that the M2C intellectuals are "wrong."

The point is, these "correspondences" are illusory, and thus not an adequate justification for repudiating the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

VIL'LAGEnoun A small assemblage of houses, less than a town or city, and inhabited chiefly by farmers and other laboring people. In England, it is said that a village is distinguished from a town by the want of a market.
In the United States, no such distinction exists, and any small assemblage of houses in the country is called a village
1. Originally, a walled or fortified place; a collection of houses inclosed with walls, hedges or pickets for safety. Rahab's house was on the townwall. Joshua 2:15.
town that hath gates and bars. 1 Samuel 23:7.
2. Any collection of houses, larger than a village. In this use the word is very indefinite, and a town may consist of twenty houses, or of twenty thousand.
3. In England, any number of houses to which belongs a regular market, and which is not a city or the see of a bishop.
town in modern times, is generally without walls, which is the circumstance that usually distinguishes it from a city.
In the United States, the circumstance that distinguishes a town from a city, is generally that a city is incorporated with special privileges, and a town is not. But a city is often called a town
1. In a general sense, a large town; a large number of houses and inhabitants, established in one place.
2. In a more appropriate sense, a corporate town; a town or collective body of inhabitants, incorporated and governed by particular officers, as a mayor and aldermen. This is the sense of the word in the United States. In Great Britain, a city is said to be a town corporate that has a bishop and a cathedral church; but this is not always the fact.
Village - a small assemblage of houses, less than a town or city

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

M2C is pure confirmation bias, but M2C scholars don't realize it

Beliefs are impervious to facts
I've spent several years trying to achieve a consensus about the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon. Others have done so as well.

I've concluded that there can be no consensus among members of the Church about Book of Mormon geography because there are completely different and incompatible approaches to the issue.

Confirmation bias makes beliefs so much stronger than facts that facts have become irrelevant.

Having once been a promoter of M2C, I understand the mindset. But I don't understand the intransigence of the intellectuals who continue to promote it.

Everyone agrees with two principles.

1. All participants believe in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon; i.e., it's a real history of real people that leads people to Christ.

2. All participants agree that physical evidence is important for many people. Without it, the Book of Mormon cannot achieve its full potential. All agree that the text (actually, their respective interpretations of the text) is consistent with with relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc. IOW, each individual and group thinks these sciences support his/her/their respective interpretations of the text.

So why is a consensus impossible?

There are two categories of differences. One category could lead to consensus, but the other is irreconcilable.

1. Because the interpretation of the text is interconnected with the relevant sciences, each element drives the other. Thus, each side interprets the text and the science in a manner that confirms its respective biases. This leads to fundamental differences that could still be reconciled by an open, honest and serious examination and recognition of the respective biases.

2. However, there is an irreconcilable difference. One side accepts the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, but the other side rejects these teachings, claiming the prophets were wrong. The New York Cumorah is incompatible with theories that put Cumorah elsewhere, so this is a fundamental difference that cannot be reconciled.

You see what you're looking for:
the old woman and the young woman
in the same image
Here's the amazing realization I've had: the first difference (interpretation) drives the second difference (acceptance of prophets)--and the first difference is really an illusion.

IOW, once both sides recognize that they are engaged in confirmation bias, they can set aside their differences about interpretation of the text and about the evidence that drives those interpretations. Then everyone can focus first on the question of whether or not to accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Another way to say it is this: there are textual interpretations and evidence to support the teachings of the prophets, and Also textual interpretations and evidence to repudiate the prophets. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a delusional state of confirmation bias.

That's why the first decision must be whether or not to accept the prophets.

No longer can we pretend the prophets have not taught that Cumorah is in New York.

We each must make a personal decision whether to accept or reject the prophets. 

Those who try to split the difference by resorting to the "it's their opinion" rationalization are not only rejecting the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah, but they are also rejecting the prophets who have condemned those who use that very rationalization.

There is no law against repudiating the prophets.

But it's dishonest to repudiate the prophets while pretending to believe the prophets. 

Especially when you are employed by BYU/CES and you hypocritically teach your students to believe the prophets.

Because I'm one who accepts the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, it may seem as though I have a thumb on the scale. But those who know me and have read my work know that I treat confirmation bias the same way whether I am assessing confirmation bias on my part or on the part of others.

I freely admit that I seek to confirm my bias that the prophets are right, but I also have a bias for accuracy, facts and reality.

With that in mind, we can all recognize that, at its core, the purpose of M2C is to confirm its bias that the prophets are wrong.

We've seen that, by its own admission, the purpose of M2C is not to seek the truth. 

I went through that analysis here:

I don't think M2C started with that objective. It actually started with the same objective I have; i.e., to confirm its bias that the prophets were correct. But in the case of M2C, the assumption was that the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons were correct. Those articles claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America, although everyone in the Church at the time also knew that Joseph and Oliver consistently taught Cumorah was in New York.

Preferring the anonymous articles over the teachings of the First Presidency and members of the Twelve, the M2C advocates calculated that the distances described in the text were too small to accommodate the New York Cumorah. From there, they concluded the prophets were merely expressing their opinions, speaking from their ignorance and speculation.

Therefore, according to the M2C intellectuals, the prophets were wrong.

The arguments go like this:

1. The prophets who have taught that Cumorah is in New York are wrong.

2. Because the prophets are wrong, we have to look at scholarly interpretations of the text as the sole guide for determining the geography.

BYU fantasy map that repudiates the prophets
3. The Book of Mormon took place in a limited area because the distances are described in terms of a few days of travel on foot.

4. The only area that "fits" the text is Mesoamerica, so the real Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is located in Southern Mexico. The Church still calls the New York hill "Cumorah," but that's based on a false tradition. Hence, there are "two Cumorahs." The "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, and the "false" Cumorah is in New York.

5. The evidence of M2C consists of a series of correspondences between the M2C interpretations of the text and the geography, archaeology, anthropology and geology of Mesoamerica.

That all sounds great, doesn't it? 

Once you rationalize away the teachings of the prophets, you can engage in normal academic inquiry. 

Well, not really.

To people outside the citation cartel, it is apparent that every one of these "correspondences" is pure confirmation bias, as I'll show in future posts. I think once the M2C advocates acknowledge that their M2C correspondences might be illusory, they will consider re-evaluating their original premise.

If they were actually engaged in normal academic inquiry, they would have done this a long time ago. They would welcome contrary views. They would participate in a robust debate and discussion. They would welcome challenges to M2C. They would engage in actual peer review.

But they don't.

Instead, the M2C citation cartel follows the classic definition of a cult, as I'll explain in upcoming posts.

That's why a consensus is impossible, at least for now.

The reason I retain some hope is that every participant in the citation cartel whom I've met is a wonderful person. I think it's still possible that they can set aside their bias against the prophets and take a fresh look.

At that point, they will examine the teachings of the prophets again and see whether a new bias--one that affirms the teachings of the prophets--can be confirmed by the evidence and by textual interpretation.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Easy to resolve-follow the prophets

This book contains a nice summary of Book of Mormon geography issues that also reveals why the M2C scholars got so far off track.

James E. Smith wrote an article in the book titled "How Many Nephites?: The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography."

You can read it here:

Smith does a great job summarizing the traditional interpretations, and in so doing, he shows why M2C is constructed on a faulty premise.

The entire M2C citation cartel relied on mistakes in Church history that led them astray, but they can get back on track if they'll just follow the prophets and accept the New York Cumorah.

Original in blue, my comments in red.

Traditional Interpretations
From Joseph Smith’s day to now, there have been historical interpretations of the Book of Mormon that have tried to situate its peoples in actual historical settings. Almost as soon as the plates were out of the ground, it was assumed that the hill in New York where Joseph Smith found Moroni’s buried record was the ancient Hill Cumorah of Mormon’s day.17 

Note 17: Joseph Smith apparently never explicitly identified the hill in New York where he obtained the plates as ” Cumorah,” but others in the early Church certainly did make this inference. See Rex C. Reeve Jr. and Richard O. Cowan, “The Hill Called Cumorah,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History, New York, ed. Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman Jr., and Susan Easton Black (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73—4.
This is the traditional M2C explanation, but everyone knows Joseph identified the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates, according to his mother. The M2C scholars accept most of what Lucy Mack Smith wrote, except when she contradicts their theories. Plus, they ignore Letter VII, part of a series of 8 essays President Cowdery wrote with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Joseph had them copied into his own history and had them republished multiple times during his lifetime. 

Believers applied the term Lamanite to American Indians generally, implying that the Israelite Lehi was the ancestor of all Native Americans.18 

Note 18. For example, see Doctrine and Covenants 3:18—20; 19:27; 28:8; 54:8; 57.

This is a good example of how the M2C intellectuals frame the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants as the product of "believers," not the Lord. We see this same approach on display in the Joseph Smith Papers and at the Church History Museum, as I discussed here: There are some LDS who still believe the D&C consists of revelations from God, but D&C 28, 30 and 32 contradict the M2C narrative so the intellectuals frame them as "the beliefs of early Church members." Notice that these revelations refer to Native American Indians living in New York, Ohio, and Missouri. They don't state or imply that Lehi was the ancestor of all Native Americans. That's a bogus claim made by M2C intellectuals to confuse members of the Church.

In addition, the Book of Mormon “land southward,” “land northward,” and “narrow neck of land” were interpreted to mean South America, North America, and the Isthmus of Darian (Panama), respectively, implying a hemispheric scope for Book of Mormon geography and history. 
The use of the passive voice here suggests this was a universal interpretation, but it was not. 

And amidst popular nineteenth-century speculations and so little scientific knowledge about the origin and fate of former New World civilizations like the Mound Builders and the Maya, believers at one time or another identified Book of Mormon peoples with most, if not all, ancient American civilizations and archaeological artifacts.19

19. For example, Charles Thompson, Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon (Batavia, N.Y.: Charles Thompson, 1841); and Orson Pratt, Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840); for a good example of numerous loose popular speculations about ancient American peoples around the time the Book of Mormon was published, see Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West . . . (Albany, N.Y.: Hoffman and White, 1837), and also William H. Stiebing Jr., Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993), 167—97.
These are good examples, along with Benjamin Winchester's work, which is usually overlooked. Priest's book was cited in anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons. Priest focused on North American archaeology. 

Throughout the nineteenth century the most influential view of Book of Mormon history was expressed by Orson Pratt. In an 1840 British missionary tract, he wrote matter-of-factly that Lehi crossed the “Pacific Ocean and landed on the western coast of South America.”20 The Nephites colonized the “northern parts of South America” and expanded into North America as well, while the Lamanites possessed the “middle and southern parts” of South America. After Jesus visited the Nephites, “the Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America.”21 

The M2C intellectuals like to quote this passage to show how ignorant and speculative the early Saints were, but they never tell you that Joseph Smith specifically refuted this theory when he wrote the Wentworth letter. I've discussed that here:
Recall that the Wentworth letter was one of the few articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that Joseph Smith signed. Yet the M2C intellectuals ignore it and instead rely on anonymous articles instead, falsely attributing them to Joseph Smith. 

By the fourth century, the Nephites were in North America and the Lamanites in South America, with wars between them at the Isthmus of Darian. These wars pushed the Nephites northward until they were finally exterminated at a great battle in what is now New York State. Some thirty years after he first published them, Pratt was still preaching these views in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and they became incorporated into his footnotes for the 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon.22 

The M2C intellectuals never explain that these footnotes were expressly speculative ("it is believed") for all locations except the hill Cumorah, which was identified unequivocally as being in New York.

Although the historical footnotes were not an official Church interpretation of the book, they represented and reinforced what had become the prevalent hemispheric view of Book of Mormon history.

This may have been the "prevalent" view, but it wasn't Joseph's, as he showed in the Wentworth letter. Joseph expressed frustration that his people would not accept his teachings, and this was one example. Even after he edited out Pratt's hemispheric model from the Wentworth letter, and even after he had Letter VII republished so many times, his own followers ignored him. And that continues today with the M2C intellectuals and the employees at BYU, CES, and COB (the Church Office Building). Here's what Joseph had to say about the futility of teaching the Saints: 

“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen."
“Some people say I am a fallen Prophet, because I do not bring forth more of the word of the Lord. Why do I not do it? Are we able to receive it? No! not one in this room." 
In the decade after the 1879 edition was published, there were lively discussions about Book of Mormon geography, but the Church did not offer any official interpretation.23 

23. For a useful summary of this topic and its history, see John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992).

You can read the entire book here:,%20A%20Source%20Book,%20lo-res.pdf
Brother Sorenson's spin is fascinating. It's astonishing to read a "source book" that does not address Letter VII, the most detailed account of Book of Mormon geography ever produced by the First Presidency (written by President Cowdery with the assistance of President Joseph Smith and explicitly approved by President's Rigdon and Williams, then published in the official Church newspaper, copied into Joseph's personal history, and republished in at least 4 official Church publications). In the Appendix, p. 372, Brother Sorenson does note Letter VII and shows it was published in the Messenger and Advocate and republished in the Times and Seasons and Improvement Era, but he says nothing about Joseph's personal history, the Gospel Reflector, the Millennial Star, or the Prophet (the New York City newspaper edited by Joseph's brother William). 

To his credit, Brother Sorenson cites D&C 128:20, which was published in the September 15, 1842, Times and Seasons, and writes, "It is clear that by the date of this revelation, Joseph Smith, and seemingly his readers generally, commonly recognized the term Cumorah to refer to the hill in New York." But notice, he does not indicate that Joseph and his readers also understood that "hill in New York" to be the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. Letter VII had been republished in the Times and Seasons just a year previously.

Brother Sorenson also attributes the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles to John Taylor or Joseph Smith, neither of whom were working at the paper in September when the articles were published. 

However, in 1890 George Q. Cannon, then a counselor in the First Presidency, wrote in a Church periodical that the First Presidency would not issue an official statement on Book of Mormon geography since “the word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure.”24 
In the Appendix of his source book, Brother Sorenson notes that Letter VII was republished in the Improvement Era in 1899, but here Smith does not point that out. Nor does he doesn't mention that Pres. Cannon's fellow counselor in the First Presidency, Joseph F. Smith, was the editor at the time. This is part of the consistent pattern from Church leaders; i.e., Cumorah is in New York, but we don't know for sure where the other events took place. The M2C intellectuals always conflate these two separate teachings because they want members of the Church to believe the New York Cumorah was merely speculative opinions expressed by the prophets.

In preparing for the next edition of the Book of Mormon, a Church committee heard different views on Book of Mormon geography but apparently did not find any position so compelling as to warrant inclusion in the book.25 When the new edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1920, it omitted historical and geographical footnotes—a practice that has continued since.
Although never adopted as an official Church interpretation of Book of Mormon history, the hemispheric interpretation seems to remain the most commonly held view among the general readership of the book. One implication of this view is that all pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, including all of the populations of the Olmec, Maya, Inca, Aztec, and all other North and South American native populations, must have arisen from one or more of the three immigrant groups identified in the Book of Mormon. However, it is doubtful whether most Book of Mormon readers give careful thought to all of the historical and archaeological implications of this view, since the central religious message of the book in no way depends upon this historical interpretation.

I don't know how to determine what most Church members believe, but it is obvious that the employees at BYU/CES/COB now adhere to M2C. 
Later in his article, Smith writes this:

John Sorenson has summarized more than fifty published statements on Book of Mormon geography from the 1830s to the present.34 He shows that until the early twentieth century, the traditional hemispheric interpretation dominated, but by the mid—twentieth century, most authors believed Book of Mormon history took place primarily within the more limited confines of Central America. Today almost all writers on Book of Mormon geography agree that Lehi’s landing place, the narrow neck of land, the lands northward and southward, and Mormon’s Hill Cumorah were situated somewhere in Central America. Recently Sorenson has proposed a fairly specific Mesoamerican setting that puts most Book of Mormon history in a geographic area reaching only a few hundred miles in each direction.35

The M2C argument is that most early LDS were wrong about the geography; i.e., the consensus was wrong. But no M2C intellectuals cite the consensus as a reason why everyone should accept it. I don't know if they're self-aware enough to see the inconsistency, but it doesn't matter because LDS who know all the facts--including what the prophets have taught and what archaeology tells us about North America--reject the M2C consensus.