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 https://byustudies.byu.edu/, 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."

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