Friday, June 30, 2017

intellectual phase locking

Some people claim the speed of light is not constant in the absolute sense, so physicists fixed the speed of light by definition. This was called "intellectual phase locking" as explained here.

No surprise, there is a contrary view that the earlier, different measurements were erroneous.

Regardless of which side is correct about the speed of light, the phrase "intellectual phase locking" can extend beyond the consensus about the speed of light.

Obviously, on this blog I'm referring to the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. A critical mass of LDS intellectuals (scholars and educators) have reached a "majority consensus" of opinion that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (specifically, Mesoamerica).

It's not difficult to trace the history of Mesomania intellectual phase locking. I've already done that.

Once established, the phase locking continues through the educational process. Pretty much every student who has gone through BYU or any CES program in the last few decades--I speak from personal experience--has been locked into the same intellectual phase regarding the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

It is currently being perpetrated at BYU where students are required to study the Book of Mormon by referring to an "abstract map" that places Cumorah in a mythical location on a mythical map, akin to a Hobbit's map of Middle Earth.

This is supposed to replace the previous "intellectual phase locking" that focused on Mesoamerica, specifically the Sorenson map (which is still found on the splash page of BYU Studies.)

Of course, it's merely an iteration of the two-Cumorahs, Mesoamerican theory, rotated 90 degrees. That's exactly what you'd expect when the creators adopted the Mesomania interpretations of the text.

Which would be funny if it wasn't being established as the "official" or at least "officially approved" version of Book of Mormon geography.

Unless something changes, quickly, the process of intellectual phase locking will establish this map as the de facto Book of Mormon geography that LDS people everywhere will learn.

IOW, LDS students will be taught that the Book of Mormon took place in a fantasy, video-game-like world.

How effective do you think that will be?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

BYU Studies (aka Meso Studies) jumps the shark

BYU Studies (aka Meso Studies) has a strong editorial bias in favor of the Mesoamerican setting. Right on their main page here, they include a link to the infamous "Charting the Book of Mormon" that includes the standard Mesomania maps, the phony "Essential features of Book of Mormon Geography" designed to fit Mesoamerica, etc.

In their latest issue, 56:2, they've "jumped the shark"* with their Mesomania.

The issue includes a book review of Jerry Grover's book, "Geology of the Book of Mormon." I've commented on this book in the past. Jerry's a great guy, and his book is interesting and well reasoned, but it's nothing but confirmation bias. It's entirely based on the premise of volcanoes, which we all know are never once mentioned in the text.

Here's the Mesomania logic:

1. The Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.
2. Mesoamerica has lots of volcanoes that are a significant part of the Mayan lifestyle and culture.
3. Therefore, the destruction in 3 Nephi must have been caused by volcanoes.

The logical fallacies here are easy to identify for those not suffering from Mesomania. The most obvious one is this: the Book of Mormon never mentions volcanoes!

Not only are volcanoes never mentioned in the text, but the supposed impact of volcanoes happened exactly once over 1,000 years in a land supposedly dominated by volcanoes. It's an absurd proposition, of course. For an explanation of volcanoes in that region, go here. Then there is the matter of earthquakes, which occur I think twice in the Book of Mormon. Go to any earthquake map and you'll see that in Mesoamerica, earthquakes are a frequent occurrence. The real Book of Mormon lands should have serious earthquakes only rarely--and no volcanoes.

Because Mesomaniacs start their thinking with a premise that contradicts what Joseph and Oliver clearly taught--i.e., that Cumorah is in New York--what do we expect other than logical fallacies?

Here is the summary of the book review, with my comments in red. You can download the entire book review as a pdf here.

Geology of the Book of Mormon

Jerry D. Grover Jr.
Benjamin R. Jordan
Since the earliest days of the publication of the Book of Mormon, there have been several studies, scholarly and otherwise, on the geography of the regions and events described within that book. But there has been only one authoritative, unambiguous description of the geography: Letter VII. Which Joseph Smith made sure everyone in the Church knew about by having it republished multiple times, included in his personal history, etc. But you will never learn about Letter VII by reading BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, and other Mesomania publications. 
Until now, most of those discussions and arguments over the possible locations and arrangement of its cities and regions have been based on geographical relationships described in the Book of Mormon itself and modern archaeological research within the Americas. Notice the emphasis on the Mesomania procedure: i.e., emphasize subjective, result-oriented interpretations of an ambiguous, vague text while never telling readers about Letter VII. To see this yourself, do a search of BYU Studies for "Letter VII." It doesn't appear even once in 56 years' worth of journals, and this is supposed to be "the premier Mormon academic journal since 1959." 
Most current models favor Mesoamerica as the geographic region of Nephite and Lamanite lands. A classic appeal to authority, in this case "most current models," all of which suppress Letter VII. 
The recent publication of Jerry D. Grover Jr.’s Geology of the Book of Mormon1 adds significant strength to these models. Jerry's book adds zero "strength" beyond confirmation bias. It merely follows the Mesomania logic I outlined above.
Today, while some individuals still argue for a Book of Mormon setting in the Great Lakes region [this is awesome for two reasons. First, it establishes a false dichotomy: i.e., you either believe in the two-Cumorahs/Mesomania theory or you believe in the "Great Lakes" theory. Of course, the most prominent alternative to Mesomania is the Heartland theory, also called Moroni's America, which puts the setting within the general boundary of the 1842 United States, usually referred to by Joseph and his peers as "America" or "this country." The Mesomania scholars and educators don't want to ever mention that theory of geography, so instead they frame the only alternative to their theory as the "Great Lakes theory." See my comment to note 2 below. The second reason this passage is awesome is the allusion to John Sorenson's infamous statement in Mormon's Codex that "“There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." Of course, those deluded LDS who believed and taught such a "manifestly absurd" idea include Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, all of their contemporaries, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson, etc.] 
of the United States and Canada,2 [footnote 2 refers only to Delburt Curtis' 50-page, 1993 book, Christ in North America, a book that is a favorite target of Mesomania scholars. No less than David Palmer reviewed it, here. Palmer is the go-to authority on Cumorah, whose book was plagiarized into a phony fax from the "Office of the First Presidency" that Mesomania scholars constantly cite, as I discussed here. Palmer also wrote the entry on Cumorah in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which (no surprise) cites his own book, in classic citation cartel practice.] 
most Latter-day Saint scholars acknowledge Mesoamerica as the most likely region that matches descriptions found within the book. [I've never seen an actual quantification of this claim that "most" LDS scholars accept Mesomania. I actually think it's a false claim. It's nothing more than a weak appeal to authority anyway, but on the merits, most LDS scholars in various disciplines I've met with don't accept Mesomania because they think Cumorah is in New York--especially after they read Letter VII and the related context. But they decline to speak out on the topic for various reasons, most of which boil down to deference to the self-appointed experts (the Mesomaniac scholars) and/or fear of "sticking their necks out" as I've heard. Besides the weak appeal to authority, the claim is really just circular reasoning; i.e., the claim that "most Latter-day Saint scholars acknowledge Mesoamerica as the most likely region" is simply a count of those the author considers "LDS scholars." The entire citation cartel operates under the premise that anyone who disagrees with the Mesoamerican setting is not, by definition, a scholar.]  
The likelihood of such a setting was greatly strengthened by John L. Sorenson’s groundbreaking book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, published in 1985.3 [I've mentioned before that I participated in a pre-publication peer review of this book, which I greatly enjoyed and found convincing--until I learned enough to reassess the premise with a better-informed critical eye. In my view, the two-Cumorahs/Mesomania theory originated from a mistake in Church history and has been perpetuated (and perpetrated) by a stead stream of sophistry and illusory "correspondences" that don't hold up to scrutiny.]
Jerry Grover’s book, which uses geological principles to explain the occurrence of natural events in the Book of Mormon, is not as widely known. This is most likely because it is new and self-published. However, the self-published nature of the book should not dissuade readers from using it as a valuable contribution to Book of Mormon studies. [If the citation cartel applied this standard for books that don't confirm their biases, the entire Church would get a breath of fresh air and reality. Instead, the editorial stance of the citation cartel has a thumb firmly attached to one side of the scale, so that Mesomania-supporting books always offer "a valuable contribution" but books that challenge Mesomania, or offer alternative ideas, deserve no notice apart from ridicule and mischaracterization.]
Grover has done an admirable job of setting forth his sound scientific analysis and interpretations, providing a new perspective on the settings and locations of Book of Mormon lands. [I'm not sure how Jerry has provided a new perspective; the entire book is based on the Mesomania premise that the Book of Mormon actually describes volcanoes that the text itself never mentions.]

The summary is bad enough, but the rest of the article is even worse. Here are some bonus passages from the full article:

Using the geology of Mesoamerica, he tests some of the more popular geographic models, such as Sorenson’s, to see if the geography matches the geologic settings that would have been necessary to cause the events described within the Book of Mormon. As I pointed out already, this article and Jerry's book are purely bias confirmation.

Grover shows, clearly, that the geology of the Great Lakes region does meet the requirements of certain events, such as the mist of darkness (3 Ne. 8:19–22). This is a classic straw man argument. I don't know of anyone except Aston who promotes a "Great Lakes region" argument for the Book of Mormon the way the Mesomania scholars characterize it, such as FairMormon, here. [BTW, that article uses information that FairMormon knows is false, but they refuse to correct it because the falsehood corroborates their theory but the truth does not.] Not only is this a straw man argument (attacking a fiction created by the Mesomania scholars), but it's a red herring because it distracts from the reality that Mesomaniacs don't want people to know about. Google "New Madrid earthquake" and you'll see that everything described in 3 Nephi has actually occurred along the Mississippi River, including the mist of darkness, within recorded history. Here's the USGS site on the topic.]

Various geologic scenarios are presented and evaluated in a step-by-step progression, beginning with a volcano-only event and then progressing to the possibility of multiple events, such as a volcanic
eruption and a major earthquake acting concurrently. All of the "various geologic scenarios" involve volcanoes! And yet, as I pointed out, the specific items described in 3 Nephi have occurred in the Mississippi River valley without any volcanic action--just as the text describes them. The "volcano requirement" is pure fiction, concocted to exclude alternatives to the Mesoamerican setting. How do they explain Mormon's failure to even mention volcanoes? They don't, but they use the typical methodology of inferring whatever isn't in the text that they need to support their theory. This is what I call the "Sorenson translation" and the entire two-Cumorahs/Mesomania theory depends on it. 

I went into the book with a rather critical eye, which, I think, made me sensitive to some of the imperfections, but by the time I reached chapter 12, “Best Fits for Locations and Events,” I found myself intrigued by Grover’s interpretations. [This is one of my favorite passages. Mesomaniacs always claim they apply a "critical eye," yet never once does the reviewer question the underlying premise (that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica) nor the obvious problem that the text never mentions volcanoes. Instead, his "critical eye" notices things such as typos, a lack of uniformity in figures, and a bibliography that is "not as extensive as I would have liked" because Jerry didn't cite two of the author's own articles--one of which is titled "Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon." That's what passes for criticism when one is "reviewing" a book that confirms one's biases.] 

If Meso BYU Studies was interested in a serious book review, maybe it would have someone who doesn't already agree with the major premise--someone whose criticism would include more than complaints that his own articles weren't cited--do the review.

But it never will.

This book review is consistent with the overall editorial stance of the journal. Like the rest of the citation cartel, BYU Studies will never publish a side-by-side comparison of alternative Book of Mormon geography theories as described by their respective proponents, let alone an honest critique of Mesomania and the associated bias-driven articles that permeate what passes for LDS scholarship in this area. 


*Jumping the shark is described this way: "Jumping the Shark is the moment when an established long-running series changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realize that the show's finally run out of ideas. It's reached its peak, it'll never be the same again, and from now on it's all downhill."

Monday, June 26, 2017

What is controversial?

From time to time I hear that my books and presentations are considered "controversial" by some people. I find this funny and deeply ironic.

I think it's the opposite of "controversial" to review and support what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Anthony Ivins, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson, and others have taught about Cumorah.

My approach to Church history is to consider all the accounts, assume people were generally honest (although highly subjective) and then seek to understand and reconcile inconsistencies. I continually invite comment and refinement. I don't claim I'm right about anything; I only explain what makes sense to me and why alternative interpretations don't make sense to me. I change my mind whenever someone offers a better explanation. (That's the process I used to reject the Mesoamerican theory after having accepted it for decades.)

It's funny that this is considered "controversial" when many of the prevailing traditions are, or should be, the ones considered controversial.

To me, what should be controversial is the common practice among some LDS scholars and educators to reject any historical accounts, scriptures, or statements of modern prophets and apostles that contradict their theories about the Mesoamerican setting. It's the tail wagging the dog, and it's on display throughout LDS academia, media, and artwork.

Even worse is the ongoing effort by the citation cartel to suppress information and opinions that differ from the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theories.

Specifically, here are some things I consider controversial:

1. The ongoing effort by many LDS scholars and educators to suppress and reject Letter VII by insisting that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church. This group includes everyone who advocates a so-called "two-Cumorahs" theory, an "abstract map" of the Book of Mormon, and/or a Mesoamerican, Baja, Panama, Chile, or any other theory that puts Cumorah somewhere other than western New York.

If you're a student at BYU, for example, you are taught an "abstract map" of the Book of Mormon that declares Cumorah is not in New York, which in turn teaches that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church. It's difficult for me to imagine a more controversial teaching, yet every BYU student is required to learn this.

2. The ongoing effort by some LDS scholars and educators to claim Brigham Young either made stuff up or was recounting a bizarre vision when he related what Oliver Cowdery said about the repository in the New York hill Cumorah, Others besides BY also mentioned it, but just two months before he died, BY spoke about this because he didn't want the knowledge to be lost or forgotten. Yet thanks to the efforts of Mesomania scholars and educators, few members of the Church have ever heard about this.

3. The ongoing effort by some LDS scholars and educators to impose imaginary "requirements" on the text and to find "correspondences" between Mesoamerican culture and history on one side, and what they think the Book of Mormon text should say on the other. These imaginary "requirements" include such things as volcanoes, which are never even mentioned in the text but, according to the Mesomania scholars and educators, must be found in any proposed Book of Mormon setting. The "correspondences" are illusory, IMO, because they are features of most human societies. Many of them are based on the spurious "Sorenson" translations summarized by horse = tapir and narrow neck of mountainous wilderness.

My approach to the scriptures has been to understand the text of the scriptures (BoM, D&C, PofGP, Bible) from the perspective of those who wrote them. For example, the idea that the "narrow neck" would be Panama (or, worse, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) is purely a modern construct, based on modern maps of the entire western hemisphere.

If it wasn't such a serious problem, I would find it funny to have people determining, by "consensus," what a "narrow neck of land" must mean--especially when the only real consensus among these scholars and educators is that Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about. This is how the Nicene creed was developed.

The next time someone tells you that Letter VII, the two sets of plates, the New York Cumorah, and/or the North American setting of the Book of Mormon are "controversial" topics, ask them about the three I listed above.

And that's just for starters.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The President of America

G. Washington, "President of America"
People keep asking about the concept that Lehi's descendants inhabited all of North America and South America. Some early members of the Church thought this, but Joseph Smith never taught it. Still, it makes sense when we realize that people intermarried and migrated extensively after the Nephite civilization was destroyed in western New York.

A lot of the confusion comes from statements such as this one from Wilford Woodruff's journal, dated April 1844:

"Conference met at 10 oclok April 8th. President J Smith arose and said it is impossible to continue the subject that I spoke upon yesterday in consequence of the weekness of my lungs. Yet I have a proclamation to make to the Elders. You know the Lord has led the Church untill the present time. I have now a great proclamation for the Elders to teach the Church here after which is in relation to Zion. The whole of North and South America is Zion. The mountain of the Lords House is in the centre of North & South America."

Mesoamerican activists actually cite this as evidence that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America.

Others read the rest of the journal entry and get a better idea of what was intended.

"When the House is done, Baptism font erected and finished & the worthy are washed, anointed, endowed & ordained kings & priests, which must be done in this life, when the place is prepared you must go through all the ordinances of the house of the Lord so that you who have any dead friends must go through all the ordinances for them the same as for yourselves; then the Elders are to go through all America & build up Churches until all Zion is built up, but not to commence to do this untill the Temple is built up here and the Elders endowed. Then go forth & accomplish the work & build up stakes in all North and South America. Their will be some place ordained for the redeeming of the dead. I think this place will be the one, so their will be gathering fast enough here."

In modern times, we interpret this to mean the continents of North America and South America, but that's now how it was meant in 1844.

About a year later, in June 1845, Woodruff was back in England. He visited the exhibition of Madame Tussaud and Sons. One of the exhibits that most impressed him was this:

"George Washington dressed as the President of America taken from A bust executed from Life. This personage bespoke as much dignity as any member of the Group."

Woodruff used the term "America" interchangeably with the United States, or the United States of America. He referred to it as America three times as often as he did the United States. Like his contemporaries, he was concerned about the division between the northern states and the southern states. For example, he made this comment in Volume 2 of his journal:

"After General Harison was elected President of the United States A body of citizens suspended a line across the road in which the President was to walk. This line contained or supported 27 flags one for each of the states. As General Harrison was passing under thes colors the line parted in the centre. One half fell into the street towards the north & the other half towards the south as much as to say the states would be divided."

When we think about Joseph Smith's statement from the April 1844 conference, he was referring to the Nauvoo temple, which was built "in the centre of North and South America," but only with reference to the United States of America and its territories.

Obviously, Nauvoo is nowhere near the center of the western hemisphere.

But it is nearly as central as possible in the United States at the time, given the uncertain extent of the western territories. Nauvoo is on the Mississippi River, just 10 miles from Missouri, a slave state. Illinois was a border state between North and South.

When Joseph said the Elders were to go through "all America" "& build up stakes in all North and South America," he was referring to the United States, as we can see not only from the ordinary use of the term "America" at the time, but also from the reality of what actually happened. The Elders were already in Europe. They were in most of the United States, but mainly in the northern states. This made sense because most members were originally from the northern states (especially New York and Ohio).

But it was important for the members to know they would build the Church in both North and South America, meaning in both the northern and southern states. They were not going to focus just on the northern states, where most of them had come from.

The missionaries didn't go to South America (the continent) until much later, long after Joseph was killed and the Saints moved to Utah.

It's always important to read historical documents in the context of the times in which they were written.

The question remains, how could there be descendants of Lehi throughout the western hemisphere if the events of the Book of Mormon took place in North America (using modern terminology).

The quick answer: the Nephite civilization was destroyed in western New York, after years of battles all the way from Zarahemla in Iowa, across the midwest (Bountiful) eastward to New York. Later, after the Book of Mormon record was concluded and Moroni buried the plates, people from the Mayan civilization migrated northward and occupied what is now the Southeastern U.S. and the Mississippi River valleys. After a few hundred years, they left and returned to their homeland in Central America. This explains how Lehi's blood, however diluted, made its way throughout what today is known as Latin America.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Brian Head fire from Bryce Canyon

I took this photo today at Bryce Canyon, looking northwest toward the Brian Head fire.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 3

Mesomania scholar encounters Letter VII - h/t Scott Adams
One of the most frequent questions posed to me is, "Why does anyone still believe in the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography?"

It's a great question. In fact, that's the question that prompted me to research the topic and write Mesomania.

In my experience, there are two categories of LDS people who still believe in the Mesoamerican theory:

1. Ordinary LDS who have not yet heard about Letter VII* and its historical context, as well as all the evidence that supports the North American setting.

2. LDS who know about Letter VII but who have been teaching and promoting the Mesoamerican theory.

LDS lay member encounters Letter VII - h/t Scott Adams
Both categories of people are declining as a percentage of total LDS membership, but the influence of category 2 remains strong.

It is understandable why people in Category 2 experience a higher degree of cognitive dissonance than ordinary members do. There is a formula for understanding levels or degrees of cognitive dissonance that I'll discuss below.

First, we need to realize that most LDS instinctively experience some cognitive dissonance about Book of Mormon geography because of the inherent improbability of a Mesoamerican setting when Joseph Smith obtained the plates in New York. Most LDS have been taught Mesomania their entire lives, both explicitly and subliminally. Most investigators are taught Mesomania thanks to the artwork in the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon and the displays in the Visitors Centers. You see it in Mesomania Meridian Magazine, as recently as today.

All of this is because some LDS scholars decided years ago that when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, they were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. Instead, these scholars insisted Cumorah is in southern Mexico, and their influence continues. This is the two-Cumorahs theory that we see throughout Church media.

Most members of the Church have never heard about Letter VII, and when they do, their instinctive cognitive dissonance is elevated. They are usually shocked to discover that the Mesoamerican theory is based on the two-Cumorahs theory, which explicitly rejects Letter VII. They reconsider their Mesomania-inspired beliefs. It is relatively easy for them to recognize the fallacies of Mesomania and change their minds to accept the North American setting.

For these individuals, the process is simple: just replace one belief with a better belief that is more consonant with their beliefs about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and related issues. Not much of a problem. A relief, actually. Questions answered. Faith supported. For many, the Book of Mormon becomes more meaningful in this new context, for many reasons.

But consider the situation of someone who has taught and/or promoted the Mesoamerican theory. He/she has sincerely wanted to teach the truth. He/she has relied on faithful, dedicated LDS scholars and educators who have developed and promoted the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories for decades. He/she has relied on FairMormon, FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, and other sources (including the artwork in the blue Book of Mormon and the Visitors Centers). Confronted with the possibility that the Mesoamerican theory is false--and, worse, that it causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, as President Joseph Fielding Smith said it would--how can they handle the high level of cognitive dissonance?

Three options:

1. Support the cognition most resistant to change. The individual will add "consonant cognitions," meaning he/she will seek to add more evidence that confirms what he/she already believes. In the case of Mesomania, this means finding more and more "correspondences" that reinforce the Mesoamerican theory. This is what we see at Book of Mormon Central, for example, which continues to promote the Mesoamerican theory exclusively and refuses to give a voice to alternative theories--including the one taught by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

2. Diminish the dissonant cognition. The individual will diminish or minimize the "dissonant cognitions" by ignoring them, decreasing their importance, or outright attacking them. In the case of Mesomania, this means ignoring Letter VII (the common practice until recently when it became untenable), characterizing Letter VII as an insignificant outlier (ignoring the historical contest), or attacking the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer. The final resort--the place where we are currently--is characterizing Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

3. Changing one's mind. The individual will recognize that the dissonant cognition (Letter VII) is actually more credible than the consonant cognition and will, despite the hurdle of acknowledging years of advocacy for an incorrect theory, change his/her mind and embrace the previously dissonant cognition.

Obviously, I hope the Mesomania scholars and educators choose the third option.

There is plenty of academic background and explanation of cognitive dissonance. I chose the one below because it expresses the problem in a formula that I find useful.

There are many factors that determine the amount of cognitive dissonance an individual experiences. Generally, the more a person has invested in an idea, the greater cognitive dissonance he/she will feel when confronted with dissonant cognitions.

The originator of the theory of cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, "theorized that when an individual holds two or more elements of knowledge that are relevant to each other but inconsistent with one another, a state of discomfort is created."**

In this context, knowledge can be described as dissonant and consonant cognitions.

"Festinger theorized that the degree of dissonance in relation to a cognition = D/(D + C), where D is the sum of cognitions dissonant with a particular cognition and C is the sum of cognitions consonant with that same particular cognition, with each cognition weighted for importance. Several theorists have proposed that the dissonance between cognitions could be determined by assessing whether a person expects one event to follow from another."

"Festinger theorized that persons are motivated by the unpleasant state of dissonance and that they may engage in ‘psychological work’ to reduce the inconsistency. This work will typically be oriented around supporting the cognition most resistant to change. To reduce the dissonance, individuals could add consonant cognitions, subtract dissonant cognitions, increase the importance of consonant cognitions, or decrease the importance of dissonant cognitions. One of the most often assessed ways of reducing dissonance is change in attitudes."

Those struggling with cognitive dissonance might like this discussion about how to resolve the problem:

We also don’t like to second-guess our choices, even if later they are proven wrong or unwise. By second-guessing ourselves, we suggest we may not be as wise or as right as we’ve led ourselves to believe. This may lead us to commit to a particular course of action and become insensitive to and reject alternative, perhaps better, courses that come to light. ...

A part of that self awareness that may help in dealing with cognitive dissonance is to examine the commitments and decisions we make in our lives. If the resolution of cognitive dissonance means that we move forward with a commitment and spring into action, making us feel better, maybe the dissonance was trying to tell us something. Maybe the decision or commitment wasn’t as right for us as we initially thought, even if it means overcoming our “no second-guessing” bias and making a different decision. Sometimes we’re just plain wrong. Admitting it, apologizing if need be, and moving forward can save us a lot of time, mental energy and hurt feelings.


*Letter VII is shorthand for Letter VII itself as well as the associated context, including the two sets of plates, Mormon's repository in Cumorah, Joseph's multiple endorsement of Letter VII, and the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc.

**All quotations are from E. Harmon-Jones, "Cognitive Dissonance Theory,"
Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), 2012.

Bonus link:

Friday, June 16, 2017


I've met some guys doing a phenomenal project that more people should know about. It's called Lifey (Life + Story, basically a video selfie that is searchable and shareable).

Check it out.

They also created, which is an awesome resource for missionaries (and travelers). 

(Relevance to this blog: as a historian, I like to think about what an Oliver Cowdery Lifey would have included. I think he and Joseph would have been shocked at how many LDS scholars and educators reject what they said and wrote, as plainly as words can be, about Cumorah being in New York.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 2

When you have two different interpretations of historical events, current events, scientific facts and models, etc., one or both may be a product of trying to minimize cognitive dissonance CD.

One way to tell which side is experiencing the greatest CD is the side that bases their argument on what someone was thinking in their inner thoughts. If your argument is not fact-based, or based on something you can observe, but is based instead on what a stranger you may not have ever met was thinking in his secret thoughts that have not been revealed by his/her actions, then you're far more likely to be further from the truth and relying on CD.

Actions including writing. One way to tell if you are relying on "inner thoughts" instead of facts is if you interpret a stranger's writings to mean something different from the plain language.

The entire premise for Mesomania is that the scholars know what Joseph Smith was secretly thinking. This is how they deal with the extreme CD they experience when they confront Joseph's actions.

Here is an example. In 2005, BYU and the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day academic conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth. I blogged about it here. The conference proceedings included these statements about what Joseph was thinking in his inner thoughts:

- Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon.
- One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding of the book’s complexities.
- Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be “truer” than Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries could know.
- Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions.  Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.
- In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there.
- Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were... he considered their location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Of course, the author never mentions Letter VII, which Joseph helped Oliver write and which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is, in fact, the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Notice that while ignoring what Joseph actually said and wrote, the author relies on anonymous articles to conclude that "Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located" in Central America.

Instead of speculating about Joseph's undisclosed inner thoughts, how about looking at what Joseph actually did?

- He had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history.
- He authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII.
- He gave Letter VII to his brother Don Carlos to have it printed in the Times and Seasons.
- In D&C 128, he referred to Cumorah among other sites in New York and Pennsylvania.
- In D&C 28, 30 and 32 he identified the Indians living in New York, Ohio and Missouri as Lamanites.
- In the Wentworth letter, he declared that the remnant of Book of Mormon people are the Indians living in this country.
- He wrote to Emma from the banks of the Mississippi, explaining he had just crossed the plains of the Nephites (referring to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois).
- He identified Zelph as the person whose bones they dug up from a mound in Illinois, declaring he had fallen in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites. Joseph said Zelph (or the prophet he served under) was known from the Hill Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains. (For more detail, see Donald Q. Cannon's excellent summary here.)

The Mesomania scholars and educators have tried to handle their CD by rationalizing away Joseph's actions so they can speculate about his inner thoughts. 

One of the most insightful articles on this topic is "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography," published here. It deals with a few of Joseph's actions that I listed above, such as the letter to Emma and the Zelph account.

Of course, the article never mentions Letter VII or the revelations in the D&C.

Instead, it relies on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, erroneously attributing them to Joseph and then using them to reinterpret the plain language of what Joseph actually wrote.

Here's how the article handles Joseph's letter to Emma and his revelation about Zelph: "The individuals and geographic features that are named in these accounts are nowhere to be found in the text of the Book of Mormon. They are external to its history."

Joseph explained that he had learned about the Book of Mormon people even before he translated the plates, and his mother confirmed this, but the Mesomania scholars reject what he said. Instead, they insist Joseph knew nothing except what he translated.

The reason they take this position is obvious: it puts them not only on an even playing field with Joseph (because they're both limited to interpreting the text), but (in their minds) it makes their interpretations superior to Joseph's because they have PhDs and decades of more recent archaeological, linguistic, and other research.

When you consider theories about Book of Mormon geography, consider whether the proponents are relying on actual evidence, or instead on their subjective interpretations of what they think Joseph's inner thoughts were.

I think you'll soon see which theories are suffering from the worst CD.

BTW, next to the LDS Mesomania scholars and educators, the critics of the Book of Mormon are suffering the worst CD, as I'll discuss in an upcoming post.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 1

This is part 1 of a series I'm doing on cognitive dissonance.

Because so many people have begun following this blog in the last few months, Part 1 is a republication of a post I did on another blog in November 2016. I'll develop the ideas in upcoming posts.

Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb on Cumorah

For over a year, Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) has been predicting the outcome of the election by using his Master Persuader Filter. If you didn't follow his blog, you missed out on a real treat.

Today he made a post titled "The Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb." He points out that listed 24 different theories for why Trump won the election. He asks, "What does it tell you when there are 24 different explanations for a thing?"

He answers: "It tell you that someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Head exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. This is the cleanest and clearest example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see."

I agree with him. His analysis has been awesome all year.

But there's another tremendous example of cognitive dissonance Adams is unaware of, because it's confined to a dozen or so LDS scholars who keep insisting the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

To paraphrase (and partially quote) Adams, here's what we're seeing in the LDS academic community:

1. They believe they are smart and well-informed.

2. Their good judgment (based on their PhD-level education) told them the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, which means the Hill Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

3. Most members of the Church--and every prophet and apostle who has spoken on the issue--believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York anyway.

Those “facts” can’t be reconciled in the minds of the Mesoamerican scholars. Mentally, something has to give. That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in.

There are two ways for Mesoamerican advocates to interpret that reality. One option is to accept that if so many members (and the prophets and apostles) believe Cumorah is in New York, perhaps it is. But that would conflict with the scholars’ self-image as being smart and well-informed in the first place. When you violate a person’s self-image, it triggers cognitive dissonance to explain-away the discrepancy.

So how do you explain-away a New York Cumorah if you think you are smart and you think you are well-informed and you think Cumorah is OBVIOUSLY in Mexico?

You solve for that incongruity by hallucinating – literally – that the New York Cumorah people KNOW the idea is a false tradition and that they PREFER the false tradition because they are anti-science and anti-academia.

And this is exactly how the Mesoamerican scholars and educators handle their cognitive dissonance.

In a rational world it would be obvious that New York Cumorah supporters include lots of brilliant and well-informed people. That fact – as obvious as it would seem – is invisible to the folks [the Meso-promoting LDS scholars and educators] who can’t even imagine a world in which their powers of perception could be so wrong. To reconcile their world, they have to imagine that all New York Cumorah supporters are defective in some moral or cognitive way, or both.

We all live in our own movies inside our heads.

[Adams thinks "humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough." I don't see this as a matter of evolution, but apparently many LDS scholars do. I think it's just another example of how the natural man is an enemy to God; i.e., when we pretend to seek the truth by rejecting the prophets, we're doomed to maintaining the illusion that the movie inside our heads is "reality" in some way.]

That’s why the LDS scholars live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called "The false tradition that Cumorah is in New York" but you live in a movie where the New York Cumorah explains the Book of Mormon so well. You live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are reliable and credible. The Mesoamerican advocates live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are speculating and don't know what they're talking about. Same planet, different realities.

Look at the explanations the Mesoamerican advocates give to solve their cognitive dissonance:

1. Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating in Letter VII; i.e., they lied when they said it was a fact.
2. Before his death, Joseph changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography; i.e., he wrote or endorsed the Times and Seasons articles.
3. Moroni never told Joseph the hill was named Cumorah; i.e., Joseph's mother misremembered or lied about that.
4. Joseph and Oliver never went to the records repository in the hill; i.e., Brigham Young and others lied about that, or Joseph and Oliver were relating a vision of a hill in Mexico.
5. David Whitmer did not hear a divine messenger refer to Cumorah; he misremembered or lied about that.
6. The hill in New York doesn't match the description in the text; i.e., there are no volcanoes in New York.
7. The hill in New York is too far from Mesoamerica; i.e., we know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, so it is "manifestly absurd" for anyone to believe Cumorah is in New York.
8. The prophets and apostles who personally knew Joseph Smith were fooled by a false tradition; i.e., like Joseph, they embraced a false tradition about the New York hill that was started early on by an unknown person.
9. The prophets and apostles who lived after Joseph's contemporaries died off were also fooled by a false tradition; i.e., Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and others didn't know what they were talking about.
10. There is no archaeological support for the New York setting; i.e., it is a "clean hill" with no artifacts.
11. Only experts trained in the field (trained in the ministry) can be trusted; i.e., if you don't have a PhD, you can't be expected to understand why the prophets and apostles are wrong.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I've addressed every one of these Mesomania arguments. Not a single one of them holds up.

The situation has boiled down to this:

LDS scholars and educators are in a state of serious cognitive dissonance that they refuse to acknowledge. They assert their credentials and years of study and their groupthink as reasons for people to believe them. In many cases, they have pursued careers motivated by Mesomania. They have obtained grants in the millions of dollars based on Mesomania. They have trained generations of LDS scholars and educators to think alike.

But fortunately, because of the Internet, their academic monopoly is cracking.

People are smarter than the LDS scholars think.

We can see through their tactics and their sophistry when we simply accept what the prophets and apostles have taught from the beginning about the Hill Cumorah.

Just to be clear, acceptance of the New York Cumorah does not resolve the questions about Book of Mormon geography overall. That geography has not been officially revealed, and the Church wisely remains neutral on that topic (just as the Church is neutral on where the real Mount Sinai is).

There are two groups of people who work on Book of Mormon geography.

1. Those who put Cumorah in New York.
2. Those who put Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.

Within each category there are plenty of variations.

Group 1: Scholars, educators, members, and anyone else can use their knowledge and reasoning to develop their own theories of Book of Mormon geography, consistent with the New York Hill Cumorah. This can range from a model limited to the State of New York all the way to a hemispheric model.

Group 2: People can also continue to promote their ideas about Cumorah outside of New York. But everyone in this group deals with the cognitive dissonance this post discusses. You'll see it in everything they write.

Part II will discuss how we can tell which group has the most cognitive dissonance.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Organization

I'm nearing 500 posts on this blog and I've addressed just about every question I've been asked, that has been raised in other blogs, and that I've thought of.

The problem is organization.

You can search for terms, of course, and many people do that. But with so many posts, you may get more search hits than you can reasonably manage.

I'm organizing the blog by pages. The first page shows the basic graphic for the two sets of plates, here:

Soon I'll have a page for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).

If there are questions you think I haven't answered already, email them.