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

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Enough and to spare

29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.

30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
(Alma 1:29–30)

17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
(Doctrine and Covenants 104:17)

Things just keep getting better.

The best Christmas present to humanity, ever: We’ve Just Had The Best Decade In Human History

by Matt Ridley
Let nobody tell you that the second decade of the 21st century has been a bad time. We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.
Little of this made the news, because good news is no news. But I’ve been watching it all closely. Ever since I wrote The Rational Optimist in 2010, I’ve been faced with ‘what about…’ questions: what about the great recession, the euro crisis, Syria, Ukraine, Donald Trump? How can I possibly say that things are getting better, given all that? The answer is: because bad things happen while the world still gets better. Yet get better it does, and it has done so over the course of this decade at a rate that has astonished even starry-eyed me.
Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.
This does not quite fit with what the Extinction Rebellion lot are telling us. But the next time you hear Sir David Attenborough say: ‘Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist’, ask him this: ‘But what if economic growth means using less stuff, not more?’ For example, a normal drink can today contains 13 grams of aluminium, much of it recycled. In 1959, it contained 85 grams. Substituting the former for the latter is a contribution to economic growth, but it reduces the resources consumed per drink.
As for Britain, our consumption of ‘stuff’ probably peaked around the turn of the century — an achievement that has gone almost entirely unnoticed. But the evidence is there. In 2011 Chris Goodall, an investor in electric vehicles, published research showing that the UK was now using not just relatively less ‘stuff’ every year, but absolutely less. Events have since vindicated his thesis. The quantity of all resources consumed per person in Britain (domestic extraction of biomass, metals, minerals and fossil fuels, plus imports minus exports) fell by a third between 2000 and 2017, from 12.5 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes. That’s a faster decline than the increase in the number of people, so it means fewer resources consumed overall.
If this doesn’t seem to make sense, then think about your own home. Mobile phones have the computing power of room-sized computers of the 1970s. I use mine instead of a camera, radio, torch, compass, map, calendar, watch, CD player, newspaper and pack of cards. LED light bulbs consume about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs for the same light. Modern buildings generally contain less steel and more of it is recycled. Offices are not yet paperless, but they use much less paper.
Even in cases when the use of stuff is not falling, it is rising more slowly than expected. For instance, experts in the 1970s forecast how much water the world would consume in the year 2000. In fact, the total usage that year was half as much as predicted. Not because there were fewer humans, but because human inventiveness allowed more efficient irrigation for agriculture, the biggest user of water.
Until recently, most economists assumed that these improvements were almost always in vain, because of rebound effects: if you cut the cost of something, people would just use more of it. Make lights less energy-hungry and people leave them on for longer. This is known as the Jevons paradox, after the 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons, who first described it. But Andrew McAfee argues that the Jevons paradox doesn’t hold up. Suppose you switch from incandescent to LED bulbs in your house and save about three-quarters of your electricity bill for lighting. You might leave more lights on for longer, but surely not four times as long.
Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.
Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that Britain is using steadily less energy. John Constable of the Global Warming Policy Forum points out that although the UK’s economy has almost trebled in size since 1970, and our population is up by 20 per cent, total primary inland energy consumption has actually fallen by almost 10 per cent. Much of that decline has happened in recent years. This is not necessarily good news, Constable argues: although the improving energy efficiency of light bulbs, aeroplanes and cars is part of the story, it also means we are importing more embedded energy in products, having driven much of our steel, aluminium and chemical industries abroad with some of the highest energy prices for industry in the world.
In fact, all this energy-saving might cause problems. Innovation requires experiments (most of which fail). Experiments require energy. So cheap energy is crucial — as shown by the industrial revolution. Thus, energy may be the one resource that a prospering population should be using more of. Fortunately, it is now possible that nuclear fusion will one day deliver energy in minimalist form, using very little fuel and land.
Since its inception, the environmental movement has been obsessed by finite resources. The two books that kicked off the green industry in the early 1970s, The Limits to Growth in America and Blueprint for Survival in Britain, both lamented the imminent exhaustion of metals, minerals and fuels. The Limits to Growth predicted that if growth continued, the world would run out of gold, mercury, silver, tin, zinc, copper and lead well before 2000. School textbooks soon echoed these claims.
This caused the economist Julian Simon to challenge the ecologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet that a basket of five metals (chosen by Ehrlich) would cost less in 1990 than in 1980. The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, Simon said, arguing that we would find substitutes if metals grew scarce. Simon won the bet easily, although Ehrlich wrote the cheque with reluctance, sniping that ‘the one thing we’ll never run out of is imbeciles’. To this day none of those metals has significantly risen in price or fallen in volume of reserves, let alone run out. (One of my treasured possessions is the Julian Simon award I won in 2012, made from the five metals.)
A modern irony is that many green policies advocated now would actually reverse the trend towards using less stuff.

Originally published 12/19/19 by Matt Ridley, in The Spectator

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Subjective reality and CES

I've had a fascinating conversation with a long-time CES employee (30+ years) who I deeply admire and respect. It contributed to my thinking about the nature of reality and the feasibility of consensus on M2C and related topics.

At this point, I'm hopeful that everyone can reach consensus on at least this point: continuing to censor the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah is unwise.

Long-time readers know that I'm interested in the psychology of beliefs. By now it is apparent that we are all dealing with subjective interpretations of reality.

Many people approach controversial issues on a sort of team or tribal basis. We join a team and adopt its beliefs by conforming our own worldview to align with the team. We use various filters to make this happen. Then we think our team sees reality correctly, while the other team see is wrongly.

The difference in subjective reality leads people to think that others who disagree with them are stupid, uninformed, crazy, or lying.

Instead, in most cases the other team is honestly trying to interpret reality. They just perceive a different version. It's a difference in perception, the product of different filters.

Both sides can be equally sane, intelligent, educated, informed, and honest. They literally perceive a different subjective reality.

In such cases, debating doesn't make sense because we're not debating the same reality. Even when we use the same language, the same terms, the same facts, we don't see the same reality so we cannot have a meaningful debate.

Unless we're willing and able to apply the other team's filters, at least temporarily, the best we can do is agree to disagree.

The worst we can do is insist our own view is the only "true" reality and use coercion, resources, power, etc., to to enforce our view through censorship, obfuscation, and misdirection.

One project I'm working on examines the origins of perception. I've written about imprinting, and my latest work delves into that topic in more detail.

For now, I'll just discuss how this implicates any effort to achieve consensus about Book of Mormon historicity.

My CES friend was involved with teaching, training, and curriculum at several locations. He (I won't identify him beyond that) visited Central America "Book of Mormon" lands several times as part of his job. He believes the two-Cumorahs theory, accepts John Sorenson's conclusions about Mesoamerica, etc.

He said he never taught any specific location for the Book of Mormon, but he did use the CES "hourglass" map that is in the CES lesson manuals. He never thought much about it because he assumed the Book of Mormon events took place somewhere in Mesoamerica and the map was close enough.

He was unaware of Letter VII. (This did not surprise me; I've never met a CES employee who knew about Letter VII. Surely some exist, but it is definitely not part of their training.) 

Given my well-educated, experienced friend's ignorance of Letter VII, it's no wonder that the youth in the Church never learn what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah unless they study on their own. CES, BYU, and Church curriculum have completely de-correlated the New York Cumorah.

As we discussed the issue, my friend explained that CES exists to facilitate spiritual conversion. Its purpose is not to answer questions outside the curriculum. (He had never heard of the CES Letter, Mormon Stories, or similar groups.)

Because of this specific mission, he thought CES would never delve into questions of geography, or translation of the Book of Mormon, or other similar controversial topics. I asked if the CES approach was sustainable. He said it was a good question. Over the years, many former students contacted him to assure him they were still reading their scriptures and still active, but he said he probably wouldn't have heard from students who were no longer faithful in the Church and he didn't have any statistics on how effective CES is, how many students remain in the Church, etc. He was satisfied with the anecdotal evidence from his own experience.

During our conversation, he said he could see how the CES map was imprinting a particular interpretation of the text onto the minds of the students. He had never questioned this because he always assumed that the "hourglass" interpretation was correct and had never heard of an alternative interpretation. He could see the conflict between the CES map and the teachings of the prophets once I told him about those teachings. However, he didn't think this was a serious problem because once people get a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon, issues of extrinsic evidence no longer matter.

This is a brief summary, of course, but the conversation provided insights into the "two movies on one screen" problem in the Church and in the world overall.

As we concluded the conversation, it became apparent to me that my friend and his fellow employees at CES are doing the right thing for any youth who have the gift of great faith (one of the gifts Moroni lists in Moroni 10). Active members of the Church generally have this gift, which is why so many say extrinsic evidence doesn't matter.

And that's awesome. Good for them. Really.

But it's exactly the same approach taken by most people in the world. For most people, facts don't matter when it comes to their beliefs.

That reality raises two questions.

1. How common is it for people to retain religious belief regardless of, and even in spite of, extrinsic evidence? I'm interested in this because so many people claim extrinsic evidence contradicts the claims of the Church, but close examination shows it is their own expectations that create the contradiction.

2. What about those who have other gifts of the Spirit?

1. Faith and extrinsic evidence. Implicit faith is ubiquitous. I've encountered people all around the world, in all different cultures and religions, who have implicit faith in their political, scientific and religious beliefs. They rationalize their beliefs through bias confirmation and avoid or mitigate cognitive dissonance by filtering evidence. It's basic psychology.

That's why conversion to another religion is relatively rare, as most LDS missionaries know. That's what makes political agreement so difficult. The same psychology produces stark differences on scientific issues such as climate change, evolution, and much more.

(In France, we taught about the apostasy and restoration all we wanted, but people didn't care, either because they had implicit faith in the Catholic Church or because they didn't accept the premise of religion in the first place.)

There will always be some people who adhere to their beliefs regardless of logic, facts, or reason. There's nothing wrong with that, either; it's the human condition and has a sound basis in both psychology and pragmatism. People of all faiths and no faith apply the same system to justify their chosen beliefs.

Ultimately, in terms of staying alive and having a good life, it doesn't really matter that much what anyone believes, so long as they can abide by the laws of the land and the rules of interpersonal relationships.

How it matters theologically is a topic for another day. But even within the Church, the basis for belief for many members is akin to, if not identical to, the basis for belief for people in other religions, as well as people with no religion. People just choose to believe what they want to believe and rationalize it however they want.

In this sense, M2C is not a problem at all, as my CES friend said. Many faithful members of the Church see no problem rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah because, in their view, those teachings are not core teachings.

That makes sense logically, and that's why it doesn't matter what you believe if it works for you.

But there are many whose faith is undermined by M2C, and it's for them that I offer an alternative evidence-based approach (Moroni's America) that makes more sense to me.

IOW, it's not M2C or bust.

And that's why I so strongly oppose the censorship tactics of Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and other M2C-promoting groups. In my view, they have erected arbitrary barriers to faith.

2. Other gifts of the Spirit. Moroni 10:5 says "By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." Many have interpreted that verse to mean a "spiritual witness," but Moroni goes on to explain that "there are different ways that these gifts are administered," referring to the "manifestations of the Spirit of God." lists many gifts of the Spirit.

I think this is a profound explanation of the differences in the way we each perceive reality.

Those who have a gift of "great faith" may not understand those who have a gift of "knowledge" and vice versa. Some people--probably most people--need a basis for faith before they can exercise faith.

That is a major reason why the Savior performed miracles, for example. He did not go around telling people to believe him because everyone else was wrong. True, his teachings were profound and touched people's hearts, but that's also true of religious leaders of every faith; otherwise no one would believe them. The authors of the New Testament emphasized the miracles because these provided extrinsic evidence that facilitated faith.

I think that's exactly what Oliver and Joseph did when they wrote the 8 essays on Church history, including Letter VII. They refuted the argument that the Book of Mormon was fiction by specifying exactly where key events in the narrative took place. This extrinsic evidence was highly important for people to accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It was so important that Letter VII was republished in every Church magazine during Joseph's life.

But now our M2C intellectuals have taken away this extrinsic evidence and replaced it with a mythological, unknown setting that many, including me, find unbelievable.

Let's just say that Letter VII provides a viable, evidence-based alternative to M2C that people should at least be informed about.

I won't get into it all except for verse 18, in which Moroni sums it up: "And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ."

The teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, including but not limited to Letter VII, are a good gift.

When our M2C intellectuals accept at least that premise, we can reach consensus that continuing their practice of censorship needs to cease.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The path to consensus

The path to consensus is simply tolerance. People can believe whatever they want without affecting your beliefs.

When we all make informed decisions, we can all live with everyone's choice and move forward together, even when we made different informed decisions.

This chart shows two paths. Which one you follow is your choice, not someone else's. I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong. They simply reflect two different priorities, two different perspectives, two different approaches, etc.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

How art affects missionary work

I'm reposting some of the most popular posts in the blog for new readers. This one was originally posted on August 24, 2016. I've edited it a little. The post is especially important now that ScripturePlus, the new app from Book of Mormon Central, is explicitly teaching M2C.

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but in this post I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official missionary edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. Far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. We can reasonably assume that 100 people look at the pictures for every one person who actually starts reading the book. Probably 1,000 people look at the pictures for every person who reads the entire text. 

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text, they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Arnold Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography Mesoamerican/two-Cumorah model (M2C) that modern scholars support. 

For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

It is time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at as I write this post.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it accommodates the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I will assume the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. 

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. The text only describes one visit, but it alludes to other visits, so this seems okay.

The big problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? 

When I read about Cumorah in Mormon 6:6, I'll naturally wonder where that hill is. If I ask the missionaries, they'll tell me they don't know where it is. That seems bizarre, to say the least. If I search the Internet, I'll quickly discover that Church leaders through the 1970s taught that it was a fact that the Hill Cumorah was in western New York. It was the same hill where Moroni buried the plates. 

So why can't the missionaries answer the question?

Because intellectuals in the Church have decided Church leaders were wrong about the New York Cumorah. They claim there are "two Cumorahs." The hill in New York, they say, was falsely named Cumorah by early Church members. They say the accounts of Moroni calling the hill Cumorah were false, that Joseph and Oliver never actually visited the depository of Nephite records inside the New York hill, etc.

These intellectuals have persuaded many members and leaders in the Church today that previous Church leaders (including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) were wrong. Now we're at the point where hardly anyone wants to re-affirm or even support the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. 

Instead, we have an anonymous Gospel Topics Essay that says the Church takes "no position" on any aspect of Book of Mormon geography.

My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How to avoid debate

Here's another observation about consensus:

"Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled." - Michael Crichton, “‘Aliens Cause Global Warming.’” Wall Street Journal. 7 Nov. 2008.

Crichton died before Book of Mormon Central began, and probably didn't know much (or care) about the Cumorah issues, but he aptly described the approach of the M2C citation cartel, part of the De-correlation Department.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why we believe alternative facts

Motivated reasoning drives most of our beliefs, according to this article:

"Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition," says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. "People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe."

Motivated and the "expertise paradox" account for much of what we see happening in terms of M2C and the peep stone-in-a-hat theory.

The article explains this quite well.

The more you know

People often dismiss those who hold opposing views as idiots (or worse). Yet highly educated people are just as likely to make biased judgments—and they might actually do it more often.
In one example of this "expertise paradox," Kahan and colleagues asked volunteers to analyze a small data set. First, they showed data that purportedly demonstrated the effectiveness of a cream for treating skin rash. Unsurprisingly, people who had a greater ability to use quantitative information did better at analyzing the data.
But there was a twist. When participants saw the very same numbers, but were told they came from a study of a gun-control ban, their political views affected how accurately they interpreted the results. And those who were more quantitatively skilled actually showed the most polarized responses. In other words, expertise magnified the tendency to engage in politically motivated reasoning (Behavioural Public Policy, in press). 
"As people become more proficient in critical reasoning, they become more vehement about the alignment of the facts with their group's position," Kahan says.
The pattern holds up outside the lab as well. In a national survey, Kahan and colleagues found that overall, people who were more scientifically literate were slightly less likely to see climate change as a serious threat. And the more they knew, the more polarized they were: Conservatives became more dismissive of climate change evidence, and liberals became more concerned about the evidence, as science literacy and quantitative skills increased (Nature Climate Change, 2012).
"It's almost as though the sophisticated approach to science gives people more tools to curate their own sense of reality," says Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland who studies the processes that influence people to accept or reject scientific messages.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Why facts don't change our minds

For those who wonder why M2C continues to be taught, consider these two sentences:

We don't always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.

There are few more obvious examples than M2C. Employees at Book of Mormon Central, for example, are unusually concerned with what their bosses and mentors think. 

The two lines in that quotation come from a wonderful essay that explains a fascinating aspect of human nature: People like to think their opinions are based on facts, but that is not the case.

The essay is found here:

Here are two fun quotations from the essay:

The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”
Leo Tolstoy was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Monday, August 5, 2019

M2C: Fixation subset of bias confirmation

I've written a lot about M2C and bias confirmation because that's an easy paradigm for people to understand. People experience bias confirmation all the time.

The challenge is recognizing it in ourselves.

But actually, the term bias confirmation includes several elements that are useful and important.

A relevant article  in Psychology Today pointed out that bias confirmation "can refer to the following tendencies:  

•      Search: to search only for confirming evidence (Wason’s original definition)

•      Preference: to prefer evidence that supports our beliefs

•      Recall: to best remember information in keeping with our beliefs

•      Interpretation: to interpret evidence in a way that supports our beliefs

•      Framing: to use mistaken beliefs to misunderstand what is happening in a situation

•      Testing: to ignore opportunities to test our beliefs

•      Discarding: to explain away data that don’t fit with our beliefs"

What we really need to watch out for is fixation, a term that encompasses the last three tendencies.

The topic is explored very effectively by Dr. Gary Klein here:

The concept of fixation is that we get stuck on an initial explanation. Often, that initial explanation will be accurate but when it is wrong, with hindsight we can see that we held on to it too long. 

In my view, M2C persists because of fixation; M2C intellectuals got stuck on an initial explanation (M2C) and, with hindsight, we can see that we held onto it for too long. 

Of course, the M2C intellectuals reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah on the same rationale. 

That's why it's up to each individual to make an informed decision.

And that's why the ongoing censorship by Book of Mormon Central is so pernicious.

But fixation errors aren’t just holding onto our initial explanation too long—fixation gets compounded when we dismiss any anomalous evidence that runs counter to our original diagnosis instead of taking these anomalies into account and revising our beliefs. DeKeyser and Woods (1990) speculated about some ways that fixation works, and Feltovich et al. (2001) called these tactics, “knowledge shields” that we use to deflect contrary data.

These six knowledge shields are pervasive in the literature of the M2C citation cartel.

Chinn & Brewer (1993) listed six basic ways that knowledge shields can operate, ways that we can react to anomalous data that are inconsistent with our beliefs: 

(i) we can ignore the data; 

(ii) we can reject the data by finding some flaw or weakness in the way the data were collected or analyzed or even speculate that the data reflected a random occurrence; 

(iii) we can decide that the data don’t really apply to the phenomenon of interest; 

(iv) we can set the data aside for the present in the expectation that future developments will show why the anomaly is not really a problem 

(v) we can find a way to interpret the data that allows us to preserve our beliefs; 

(vi) we can make cosmetic changes to our beliefs and fool ourselves into thinking that we have taken the data into account. 

Chinn and Brewer found that college students displayed each of these tactics and so did established scientists. Chinn and Brewer also listed a seventh type of reaction—we can accept the data and change or discard our initial beliefs.

This seventh reaction is the one I eventually used to discard my belief in M2C. I'll explain in upcoming posts.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Reality is subjective

In a sense, it would be great if everyone reached a consensus about Book of Mormon geography and historicity, but because reality is subjective, it will probably never happen.

Whatever our beliefs, our personal realities can work for us. The key is finding a reality that does work.

Scott Adams (Dilbert) discusses how reality is subjective.

He said, "God is what is left over once you take everything away." Good description of how our individual subjective realities all work, even when we all believe something different. Everyone can live together even when they have different worldviews. Plus, once you realize reality is subjective, you can control it. That's how you escape the matrix, etc. You control your reality, and your reality is complete. Put systems in place to create the reality you want.

Reality can be interpreted in a completely different way and still work. You can understand reality through a different filter and it works as well as the one you looked through before. The lesson is they both work.

Start at 43:00


The other related item is simulation theory. Here's a good intro.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

You can change your opinion

From twitter:

You're allowed to change your opinion on something. People act like because you thought it 10 years ago--with less knowledge and experience--you're a hypocrite for now thinking differently. They want to nail you to your old thoughts because they haven't grown themselves.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Conformity: The Power of Social Influences

New book explains the M2C citation cartel.
Our urge to obey authority is powerful. But our drive to conform is greater.
Cass Sunstein’s new book, ConformityThe Power of Social Influences, delivers a brisk and accessible overview of research from social psychology, economics, and political science on how people behave in groups. Sunstein, a Harvard professor and alumnus of the Obama Administration, discusses the dangers of conformity and ideological groupthink in structuring a society and its various institutions. Sunstein, moreover, examines how viewpoint diversity can serve as a bulwark against group polarization and institutional rot. Indeed, any organization, system, or society which does not incentivize freedom of expression and public dissent is one that is doomed to fail....
For many people, conformity sparks mental images of sheep doing what they’re told. But in fact, at the outset, Sunstein notes that conformity has its advantages. We lack information about science, health, politics, and so on. Not only that, but we simply don’t have the time to assess every option presented before us. Oftentimes, the most rational course of action is to follow the choices of those we trust. We are natural conformers because, more often than not, it keeps us alive and in good standing with our peers. But sometimes it can lead us to disaster.
Consider group polarization, the topic of one of the chapters. In short, social psychologists have found that when individuals hold certain beliefs, those beliefs are magnified when they interact with others who hold similar beliefs. In a study on jury behavior, researchers gave jurors an 8-point scale to measure how severely they wanted to punish a law-breaker. They found that when individual jurists preferred high punishment, the overall verdict ended up higher than that recommended by the median juror. Put differently, when individual jurors preferred a severe punishment, deliberation with other jurors sharing this view raised the overall severity of the punishment. One juror might say they want to impose a fine of $10,000 while another might say that anything less than $12,000 is unacceptable. By the end, the fine might increase to an amount far beyond anyone’s initial starting point. On the flip side, Sunstein reports that groups comprised of lenient jurors produced even more lenient verdicts than the one recommended by the median juror in the group. When group members drift in a certain direction, individual members will double down on that perspective to show their commitment. This drives the group towards extremism despite individual members not being extremists themselves....
The Conformity Paradox
Then there are what Sunstein calls “affective ties.” Plainly, dissent can disrupt social harmony, which is not always the best course of action when interacting with our peers. As the book puts it, “Some forms of dissent might correct mistakes while also weakening social bonds.” This can be risky. The choice we face is a difficult one. Do we share our views, introducing information that could improve group decision-making, or do we go along to get along, preserving our social relationships in the process? When we are bonded by affective ties, the latter option is often more appealing. But for Sunstein, the first option offers indisputable long-term benefits.
The problem with conformity is that it deprives a society of the information it desperately needs. Sunstein rightly asserts that conformists are often viewed as protectors of the social interest while dissenters are seen as selfish individualists, calling attention to themselves and disrupting the status quo. This is not always the case. The dissenter challenges the status quo, introducing new ideas that may aid his group by improving an ailing system. The conformist is reticent, choosing to live in comfort as his group blunders.

truth vs consensus

"Individuals search for truth, groups search for consensus."

And inspiring leaders build consensus around the discovered truth.
Management is telling other people what to do. Leadership is making them want to do it.
I thought, wait but scientific groups like lab groups & collaboration teams & scientific societies & fields search for truth. But then I remembered, oh no, they also search for consensus...