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

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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A stumbling block

David Whitmer once wrote, "It is also a stumbling-block to those who desire to investigate as to the truth of the Book of Mormon, to see the believers in that book divided."*

He was not referring to the divisions we face today, which boils down to prophets vs scholars regarding the Hill Cumorah. Nevertheless, this division is definitely a stumbling block.

The division consists of these two opposite teachings:

1. The prophets have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah (Moroni 6:6) is in New York.

2. The M2C intellectuals have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is not in New York and that the prophets are wrong. These M2C intellectuals have persuaded employees at BYU/CES and COB (the Church Office Building) to follow them instead of the prophets.

Hence, the division, which is a stumbling block to investigators (and members).

The damage caused by this stumbling block is evident all around us.

I say it's time to eliminate the division by accepting and publicizing the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. This means the M2C scholars will have to conform their teachings to what the prophets have taught, but they should have been doing this all along.

I don't think this is going to happen until the magnitude of the stumbling block created by the M2C scholars is so great that it is no longer tolerable.

*David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 4.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Underlying cognitive dissonance

The other day I suggested that the greatest obstacle to reaching consensus among Mormons regarding Book of Mormon geography is sunk costs.

I received a lot of positive comments on that post, but now that I think about it, the sunk costs are only a problem for a tiny minority of LDS; i.e., the employees at BYU/CES/COB who have been promoting and teaching M2C.

The rest of us haven't invested nearly as much in M2C. Our "investment" consists of a naive belief in what the M2C intellectuals have taught. They've told us in Seminary, Institute, BYU, and Church media, manuals and visitors centers that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that there are two Cumorahs. We've accepted that because we (i) trusted these intellectuals and (ii) didn't know what the prophets have taught.

Now, that is changing.

People throughout the Church are learning, for the first time, about Letter VII and the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets that reinforce Letter VII.

We might feel a little embarrassed that we believed M2C. Maybe we've taught it on our missions, in classes, to our children, etc. Maybe we think we're "smart" because we believe the M2C intellectuals. Those are all sunk costs that make it a little difficult to change our minds.

When we learn how these M2C intellectuals have misled us by suppressing the teachings of the prophets, we develop cognitive dissonance that looks like this:

1. CES/BYU/COB employees have been teaching M2C and we trust these employees to teach the truth, so we accepted M2C.

2. We discover that the prophets have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is in New York, which contradicts M2C.

3. We discover these CES/BYU/COB employees knew all along but they have censored the teachings of the prophets because they think the prophets are wrong and they don't want us to know that's what they think.

4. We develop cognitive dissonance because we want to believe both the prophets and those CES/BYU/COB employees.

5. Now we have to figure out which of the things the CES/BYU/COB employees have taught are true and which are not. On the New York Cumorah, it's easy: we believe the prophets instead of these employees. But now we have to start evaluating other topics.

Still, for most of us, these sunk costs and the cognitive dissonance they create do not threaten our careers or our status. They are manageable. We can change our minds when we learn what the prophets have taught. We can place the prophets above the intellectuals.

But we shouldn't have to make that choice.

The easy solution is for the CES/BYU/COB employees to align their teachings with the prophets. That would eliminate the cognitive dissonance and we'd all be on the same page. 

The entire Church would be aligned with the prophets.

That's where we should be.

But we won't get there unless and until the CES/BYU/COB employees themselves change their minds about the New York Cumorah and align their theories with the teachings of the prophets.

And that will require them to overcome their own cognitive dissonance that was created by the massive costs they have sunk into M2C.

I'll suggest ways to help them in my upcoming video series.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sunk costs and M2C

I think the greatest obstacle to reaching consensus among Mormons regarding Book of Mormon geography is sunk costs.

Any believing Mormon who wanted to understand Book of Mormon geography and was starting from scratch would start with the teachings of the prophets. This means Cumorah is in New York. The New York Cumorah has been taught so clearly, so persistently and so consistently for over 150 years by Church leaders in official publications and General Conference that it is really not subject to interpretation.

That is, if we're starting from scratch. IOW, if we don't have sunk costs.

With Cumorah in New York, there are many possible options for other Book of Mormon locations, which is why the Brethren have never taken a firm position on that question. The Brethren have consistently taught both that (i) Cumorah is in New York, and (ii) beyond Cumorah, we can't yet say for sure where other sites are.

If we were starting from scratch, we would start with the prophets' teachings about Cumorah in New York and then assess the text in light of relevant archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography. (I think we'd end up agreeing on something close to Moroni's America, but I'm happy to consider any theory of geography that is consistent with the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.)

But in reality, of course, most LDS do not start from scratch. From a young age (or from the time they joined the Church), their minds have been imprinted by M2C.

Because the M2C intellectuals have invested so much time, effort and resources into developing and promoting the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, they have done everything possible to establish M2C in the Church. They teach it at BYU and CES. The Correlation Department enforces M2C throughout the Church.

And because of these sunk costs, the psychology of the M2C intellectuals prevents them from abandoning their theories.

And yet, this is an irrational approach.

Their past time, effort and resources are "sunk costs" that can't be recovered, whether they continue to promote M2C or not.

Worse, the more time and effort they spend on M2C in the future, the more unrecoverable investment they are sinking into M2C. 

In economics, the term "sunk costs" refers to money that has been spent and cannot be retrieved. Theoretically, people should ignore sunk costs. "Don't cry over spilt milk," etc.

But in reality, people have trouble ignoring sunk costs.

In his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, Richard H. Thaler explains how he has collected dozens of examples of people paying attention to sunk costs, even though they should not. A friend pays $1,000 to join a tennis club and develops tennis elbow, but keeps playing anyway (aggravating the injury) because he "invested" the $1,000. "Humans have trouble with this concept... sunk costs linger and become another SIF {supposedly irrelevant factor)... Paying $100 for a ticket to a concert that you do not attend feels a lot like losing $100."

Sunk cost fallacy: people keep wearing shoes that don't fit
because they spent a lot of money on them.
In another example, suppose you pay for a pair of shoes you can't return, but they don't fit. "The more you paid, the more pain you will bear before you stop wearing them, and the longer they will take up room in your closet."

In the same way, health club membership fees "can help me overcome my inertia... attendance at the club jumps the month after the bill arrives, then tails off over time until the next bill arrives." This is called "payment depreciation," showing that the effects of sunk costs wear off over time, but right after the costs are sunk, people try to keep from "losing" their investment by using their club memberships.

Imagine the situation of the M2C intellectuals who have spent years obtaining a PhD in an M2C-related field such as Mesoamerican studies. Put yourself in their place. You have written articles and books on the subject. You have taught classes and seminars, spoken at professional conferences, etc. Maybe most significantly, you have taught thousands of LDS youth at BYU or CES that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

Such efforts are enormous costs, not only in time and money, but also in self-image and reputation.

Then, after years of effort, you come across Letter VII. You read the consistent, persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Because of the sunk costs fallacy, you attribute all of that to the "mere opinions" of the prophets.

But then you realize that President Ezra Taft Benson was talking about you when he said, in General Conference, The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man...

What do you do now?

The sunk costs problem was famously described by Leo Tolstoy at the beginning of chapter 14 in What Is Art? I'll organize it for clarity:

I KNOW that most men, not only those considered clever,
but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical or philosophic problems
can very seldom discern (or accept) even the simplest and most obvious truth
if it be such as to oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty, 
(i) of which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues,
(ii) which they have proudly taught to others, and
(iii) which they woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

All three of the costs Tolstoy listed here have been sunk, at great expense, by the M2C intellectuals at BYU/CES.

The remedy, of course, is recognizing that sunk costs are sunk. But that is very, very difficult for people even in everyday activities such as buying shoes that don't fit or tickets to an event we can't attend.

To some degree, perhaps the remedy involves a degree of humility and deference to the prophets.

Nevertheless, the difficult of the remedy is not a justification for continuing to sink more costs.

In my view, any Latter-day Saint who continues to teach M2C, without at least also telling students/readers about the teachings of the prophets regarding the New York Cumorah in Letter VII and General Conference, is being dishonest and is violating his/her position of trust. 

I realize this is all easy for me to say. When I realized M2C was not only irrational and counterfactual, but constituted a direct repudiation of the prophets, I didn't have much of a sunk costs problem. True, I had spent a lot of time reading, and hundreds, probably thousands, of dollars buying, publications from the citation cartel (BYU Studies, FARMS, Interpreter, etc.). I had taught M2C on my mission and in Church callings. Psychologically, I had the same inertia against change that everyone does. 

But for me, it was well worth it to align my views to what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

It has been a bonus to realize that the text itself, as well as archaeology, anthropology, geology and geography, corroborate and support what the prophets have taught, while at the same time they contradict M2C.

All I ask here is that everyone involved with teaching or studying the Book of Mormon take a moment to think about whether we are teaching something because of the sunk costs fallacy.

By now, the only excuse for teaching M2C is the irrational effort to justify (and reclaim) sunk costs.