Friday, July 17, 2015


Brant Gardner, referring to The Lost City of Zarahemla, writes, "Neville suggests that the origin of the Mesoamerican connection was a conspiracy foisted on the Saints--and connected to the Times & Seasons articles that were very explicit in looking at Mesoamerican locations. Neville has a blog where he excoriates those who have published on Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. He is quite critical of things that I have written, for example. As you might guess, I disagree with him.  :)

First, Brant writes an excellent summary. The Mesoamerican connection, as set forth in the Times & Seasons articles, was a conspiracy foisted on the Saints. One evidence of that is the widespread damage the Mesoamerican theory has done. Joseph faced conspiracies throughout his life, from the conspiracy of Chase and Lawrence and others who tried to get the plates from Joseph before he even translated them, to the "Carthage Conspiracy," to quote the title of the book by Elder Oaks. The Mesomerican conspiracy was minor by comparison, at least initially--and probably well meaning, as I point out in the book.

Second, maybe Brant has his own connotation of "excoriate," but the definitions found in dictionaries include "To censure strongly; denounce; to censure scathingly." Censure, in turn, means "a judgment involving condemnation; the act of blaming or condemning sternly; an official reprimand."

Maybe Brant has criticism such as this in mind: "Lund has led numerous tours to Mesoamerica, and one would expect him to be familiar with at least the major Mesoamerican cultures. Yet he gets basic facts wrong....Unfortunately, there will be readers who, unfamiliar with Maya glyphs, will assume that the art on the gold plate is writing.... These examples represent basic information. They are the kind of mistakes that should not be made regarding the cultures and history of Mesoamerica... Lund does not adequately qualify some of the data he uses, and sometimes he misuses such data.... Lund’s discussion obscures this fact and introduces his own desired interpretation of data to suit his purpose.... Lund’s selective quoting here underlines the distance between his source and his conclusion.... It appears that Lund himself is among those who Fox indicates have “run roughshod over scientific method in making their claims.... If readers are not familiar with Mesoamerican culture and history, they will find Lund’s book faith-promoting. If they are familiar with Mesoamerica, it will be disappointing."

You probably have guessed that all those quotations are Brant's own writing.

I'm tempted to point out the tremendous irony of Brant Gardner criticizing someone else for obscuring facts and introducing "his own desired interpretation of data to suit his purpose," but I won't.

I'll apologize right here if anyone thinks I've condemned (or excoriated) anyone. I've maintained from the outset, consistently, both in writing and in my presentations, publicly and privately (and in this blog) that I think the Mesoamericanists have been defending what they thought were Joseph Smith's teachings. I have no problem with that. I never did. I assume they are all sincere, well-meaning, etc. As well as nice people.

But on the Mesoamerican geography, in my opinion, they're simply wrong. Pointing out fallacies in their arguments in no way constitutes excoriating people. My intent is to improve the quality of the debate. Given the logical fallacies and factual errors in so many of these articles, I've been doing my own peer reviews, many of which I post on this blog. I welcome similar feedback (which apparently is forthcoming, finally, even though I sought such feedback even before I published the book). 

Anyone who has read the literature in this area (FARMS, FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, Interpreter, etc.) knows there is a long history of ad hominem arguments, taking personal offense, and so on. Maybe Brant is drawing on that history.

But that, specifically, is one of the things I've wanted to remove from the debate over Book of Mormon geography. The discussion should focus on the facts and reasoning, not on the people involved. 

If Brant wants to claim I excoriate Mesoamerican arguments, then okay (although even in that sense, I don't intend to condemn the arguments; I just point out their fallacies). But I don't excoriate those who have published on Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. At least, I don't intend to. Even though they may perceive of me as some sort of opponent, I don't feel the same. After all, I was on the Mesoamerican side, buying books, attending conferences, etc., for decades. In my view, everyone involved in the debate should think and act as colleagues. That way, we could reach a consensus, I believe. So far, I've been unsuccessful in my attempts to have a dialog with Mesoamericanists, but I'm still willing to meet for lunch any time.


NB. I was curious what Brant was referring to, so I did a search. I had forgotten about my discussion of Brant's review of Wunderli's book, "An Imperfect Book." Wunderli's book contains some mistakes and poor reasoning, but his critique of the Mesoamerican theory is pretty good. And, in my view, Brant and the other reviewers avoid Wunderli's criticisms in that area.

NB. Brant should know that I respect him as a Mesoamerican scholar. I've even cited him in a couple of my upcoming books; he's done some excellent research. I just don't think his connections to, or correlations with, the Book of Mormon hold up. Maybe someday we can discuss why. I'm willing and available any time.


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