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

Friday, January 28, 2022

Thought Experiment #1: what if LDS scholars believed the prophets

Thought experiments are useful for lots of reasons, but in some cases, an imagined scenario can assume a life of its own. We could think of a thought experiment as representing a parallel universe where different decisions lead to different outcomes (realities).

I'm going to pose a series of thought experiments in the nature of alternative history.

This graphic of life paths is similar to the possible paths of Church history. At every decision point, a different choice would have led to a different outcome.

Thought experiments are speculative, but they can also inform and guide future decisions. 

Another way to think of this is in terms of course corrections. An error in the past can be somewhat corrected by changing course now. 

Let's consider the possibilities.


Thought Experiment #1 is, what if LDS scholars believed the teachings of the prophets?

There are a lot of places we could start. Maybe we'll consider some of these in future thought experiments. Think how different the present would be if any of the following had happened. Maybe in a parallel universe these things have happened and we, in this universe, just don't know about it.

- 1823: What if we found a contemporaneous letter or journal entry that confirmed Lucy Mack Smith's report that when he first appeared to Joseph Smith, Moroni told Joseph the plates were deposited in the "hill of Cumorah," making this the first time Joseph ever heard the term? No doubt our M2C scholars would rationalize it away somehow, but how would such a document have changed history?

- 1827: What if others in addition to Lucy reported that Joseph was referring to the hill as Cumorah months before he got the plates?

- 1829: What if Oliver and Joseph had also left records to corroborate David Whitmer's account of meeting the messenger who was taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah?

- 1835: What if the original First Presidency had declared that it was a fact that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the hill in New York where the plates were deposited? Well, that isn't a hypothetical, because the Assistant President of the Church did declare that and all the other members concurred. But what if LDS scholars today accepted that?

- 1842: What if Orson Pratt had accepted Joseph's gentle but firm rebuke in the Wentworth letter of Pratt's hemispheric theory?

- 1899: What if President Joseph F. Smith, as editor of the Improvement Era, republished Letter VII to counter anti-Mormon claims that Cumorah could not be in New York? Well, that's not a hypothetical; that actually happened. What if LDS scholars accepted Letter VII in 1899? 

- 1921: What if, when he eliminated Orson Pratt's speculative footnotes from the official edition of the Book of Mormon, James E. Talmage had retained the factual footnotes, including the location of Cumorah in Manchester, New York?

- 1935: What if LDS scholars had heeded Joseph Fielding Smith's warning that rejecting the New York Cumorah in favor of M2C would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon?  

- 1975: What if LDS scholars had accepted President Marion G. Romney's General Conference address on the New York Cumorah?

Those would each be interesting, but let's start with 1990 and the Cumorah letter from the Office of the First Presidency because this was recently in the news on social media.

Background: In 1990, the Office of the First Presidency responded to an inquiry from a Church member “about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.” The letter explained: “The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.” 

It's a simple, factual statement supported by plenty of historical documentation that shouldn't have been controversial at all. But because the facts contradict the M2C theory promoted by LDS apologists at FARMS (now the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, and Book of Mormon Central), the apologists tried to undermine and discredit the letter. 

A recent podcast by Mormonism Live with RFM titled "Mormon Apologist Skullduggery - The Mystery of the Second Watson Letter" discussed the issue at length.

Here's the thought experiment.

Thought Experiment #1 is, what if LDS scholars believed the teachings of the prophets as summarized in the 1990 letter?

Here's one possibility.

John Sorenson, who had published his Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon in 1984, might have said to himself, "Well, maybe I'm wrong about the Mayan thing, after all." 

His followers, starting with Jack Welch and Kirk Magleby, might have said, "You know, there are a lot of logical and factual fallacies in that book. We were fine with them because they served a purpose, but if the prophets were right about Cumorah, maybe we should reconsider."

Dan Peterson and William Hamblin might have said, "The New York Cumorah is the only logical setting, just as we've said all along. Our critics are idiots."

FARMS (and eventually Book of Mormon Central) would have changed their logo to reflect the actual language of the Book of Mormon, replacing the Mayan glyph with the letter A to represent English.

Instead of spending decades seeking for evidence in Mesoamerican to prove the prophets were wrong, LDS scholars would have sought evidence to support the teachings of the prophets. 

And they would have found it, in abundance, right in North America.

LDS scholars would have interpreted the text to corroborate, not repudiate, the New York Cumorah. They would have recognized that the text does not say or imply there were millions of Jaredites killed at Cumorah, or hundreds of thousands of Nephites/Lamanites. 

They would have noticed that the text does not refer to volcanoes or an isthmus, but instead describes the types of earthquakes and river systems typical of the Mississippi River systems, including the Ohio and Illinois rivers. 

They would have accepted what Moroni told Joseph; i.e., that the record was written and deposited not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra. They would see that the text describes pre-Columbian North America quite well.

The same scholars would embrace authentic Church history instead of revising it to de-correlate Cumorah. They would have upheld Joseph and Oliver as truthful, reliable and credible instead of framing them as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

Latter-day Saints and other believers in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon would be united in their understanding of the text as an actual history of real people. 

The claims of critics would be defused. Instead of demonstrating the sharp disconnect between the prophets and the scholars, they would have been faced with unity. Instead of claiming no evidence for the Book of Mormon, they would have been faced with an abundance of evidence. 

But this is not our universe.

Not right now, anyway.

But it could be.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Book review of Infinite Goodness

The youtube channel Mormon Book Reviews has released a review of Infinite Goodness that everyone should watch.

As Steve says in the review, this is the time for Latter-day Saints to recognize our commonality with other Christians. 

The Church just released a booklet on Muslims that emphasizes our shared beliefs, values and lifestyles. This pursuit of unity is part of the "ongoing Restoration" that Church leaders have been explaining.

Understanding the connections between Jonathan Edwards, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon will accomplish a similar unity with fellow Christians.

Few Latter-day Saints are familiar with Jonathan Edwards, so they don't understand the significance of these connections. There is a brief introduction here:

The book Infinite Goodness is a summary and overview of the topic. My publisher told me to keep it as short as possible because people don't want thick books, but there's a lot more to come. You'll see that the book addresses many topics, including hymns, polygamy, the role of Elias, and more. 


In the early days of the Church, Mormon missionaries sought to distinguish the Restoration from the rest of Christianity, from "Hindoos," from Islam, etc. 

That made sense at the time because they had to sharpen the distinctions to persuade people to leave their existing churches.

Nevertheless, Joseph Smith explained an important point when asked about the his beliefs.

Question 20th. What are the fundamental principles of your religion.

Answer. The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, “that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;” and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.

But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth. 

At this stage of the Restoration, we focus on unity, not division.

This is the time when all Latter-day Saints are called upon to pursue the ideals of the 13th Article of Faith:

13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

(Articles of Faith 1:13)

Friday, January 14, 2022

Burden of deciding

A thoughtful piece in the Wall St. Journal discussed the burden of deciding. The context was the conflicting expert advice about covid about which the Washington Post says: "A strange unity of confusion is emerging."

We see the same situation among modern LDS intellectuals, particularly those who have set themselves up as "experts" and who have thereby justified their repudiation of what the prophets have taught about Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Engaged learners don't depend on experts to tell them whether or not to accept the teachings of the prophets.


It is bewildering to receive changing and conflicting information from experts. But it also shows some things about our fundamental situation as creatures that have to believe and act without omniscience. Nothing, not even the experts, can relieve you of the burden of deciding what to believe. Even if all you want to do is believe whatever the experts say, that is itself a decision. Then you’ve got to decide who is an expert and which experts to believe.

Consider a hypothetical person who was born in 1922 and has resolved for the past century to believe all and only what the experts said. On topics such as race and sex, economics and law, astronomy and physics, psychology and medicine, our centenarian would have beliefs now entirely incompatible with those he had at the beginning. If he were to reflect on these changing beliefs, he’d have to conclude that most of the things most of the experts in most areas had said for most of the past 100 years were false. He’d do well to assume that most of what they’re saying now is false as well.

... Sheer deference [to experts] would fetch you up in complete incoherence. And experts are people too. They’re muddling through like we are; they are confused too; they forget a key detail; they see what they expect or want to see.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Five great signs of intelligence

These are signs not merely of intelligence, but also of truth-seeking, humility, harmony, and happiness.


Five great signs of intelligence: 

• You're not afraid or ashamed to find errors in your understanding of things.

• You take mistakes as lessons.

• You don't get offended with accepting the facts.

• You are highly adaptable and very curious.

 • You know what you don't know.

h/t to Prof. Feynman

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Reframing our minds with hacks

Some thoughts from Twitter:

Scott Adams
Here’s a reframe that will change some people’s lives forever: Your mind is the outcome of genetics, traumas and hacks.

If you don’t learn to hack (program) your own brain, the default is that you are little more than genes and traumas.
An example of a brain hack is education. It is a conscious choice to physically alter your brain via learning. Another hack is intelligent skill stacking.
Associating self-rewards with habits you want to deepen is a hack.
Learning to reframe your experiences is a hack. Learning to see reality as subjective is a hack. Learning to avoid “emotion pollution” from entertainment products is a hack.
Reframing sleep as a skill that can be learned is a hack.
Learning to put things in context is a hack. Practicing optimism is a hack.
If you make it your system (habit) to routinely learn and test new hacks, you become the author of your own mind, and — because your experience of reality is subjective — the author of your own experience.
Be the hack, not the trauma.

Replying to
Another reframe (avoiding hack): Your brain is like a computer. There's an operating system (genetics) and there are programs. Some are bloatware (culture), some are malware (trauma), some are useful programs. YOU are the admin of your brain. YOU choose what program to run.

Replying to
You were divinely created by God. Call it what you will, but the God of the Bible is sovereign and can do more than hack your brain, which he created.

Replying to
I like the truth better. Your mind is a universal explainer. Capable of overcoming, genetics, traumas and hacks, and everything else

Replying to
The second brain (enteric nervous system, separate from cranial/spinal nervous system) also informs our state of mind. "A big part of our emotions are influenced by the nerves in our gut."