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.