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, 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.