Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Non-neutral "Neutrality" in Gospel Topics

Lately we've been hearing a lot about the Church's alleged position of "neutrality" about Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

For example, the editors of Saints invoked "neutrality" as a justification for the false narrative present they created in that book (i.e., supposedly accurate historical figures in Church history who never heard of Cumorah).

See my discussion here: https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-historians-explain-censorship-in.html

Likewise, Book of Mormon Central Censor invokes the "neutrality" concept to justify its strong advocacy of M2C and its censorship of anything that contradicts M2C.

As used by these intellectuals, "neutrality" is a pretext for censoring and rejecting the teachings of the prophets.

Let's see how this works.
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The editors of Saints cited the "Gospel Topics Essay" on DNA. This is a favorite reference for Book of Mormon Central Censor, as well, along with the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Why?

Because these reference books were written by and cite only M2C advocates. There is nothing--absolutely nothing--neutral about them.

I've discussed the EoM before, so let's look at the Gospel Topics essay.
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Here's the link:

https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng

Because today's topic is the supposedly "neutral" position on geography, I won't discuss the DNA issue here.

Instead, I'll focus on three paragraphs, with their accompanying footnotes.

Two things to notice.

1. The essay never quotes the scriptures. Instead, it relies on inferences and commentary by M2C scholars.

2. I searched in my browser for the term "neu" as in neutral or neutrality, and nothing came up. Maybe my browser was having a bad day, but I didn't notice the term when I read the essay, either. If it is in there, email me and show me where.

Original in blue, my comments in red. I put the footnotes right after they are cited in the text. Quotes within quotations are in purple.

The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. 
But the direct information the text does provide explains there were no nations on the promised land where Lehi landed. 2 Nephi 1:8 "And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance."
Nephi also reports that they planted seeds and hunted animals when they landed; they faced no competition for farming or hunting resources. Of course, this doesn't preclude the possibility of "others who may have lived nearby." I actually think they did encounter people when they arrived, but I think, because of what Lehi said, these were not "nations" in the sense of large, organized civilizations. 
Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas. 
This is carefully crafted vague language, but what is the essay really saying? Simply that "most early Latter-day Saints" were wrong because they made false assumptions.
Did they make these assumptions out of thin air?
Of course not. Notice how the essay avoids informing readers what Joseph Smith explained in the Wentworth letter:
"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. 
"We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. 
"The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."
Modern Church members are unfamiliar with Joseph's teaching because this material was censored from the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. Readers of this DNA essay likewise will not learn what Joseph taught. 
This DNA essay skirts the real reason why people want to know about the DNA issue. To be effective, this essay should help reconcile Joseph's teaching with the scientific evidence. Instead, this essay simply obscures Joseph's explanation and dismisses it as a false assumption. That's pure M2C ideology, not neutrality.

If the purpose of these Gospel Topics essays is to inform and educate, censoring and avoiding the teachings of the prophets is counterproductive. 
Building upon this assumption, critics insist that the Book of Mormon does not allow for the presence of other large populations in the Americas and that, therefore, Near Eastern DNA should be easily identifiable among modern native groups.
There are no citations here, so it's difficult to tell who the critics are and what they're actually insisting, but this strikes me as a bit of a straw man fallacy. Joseph never taught or endorsed a hemispheric geography; in fact, in the Wentworth letter, he deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric ideas. If, as Joseph explained, the Book of Mormon described the history of the ancestors of the "Indians that now inhabit this country," it did not pertain to the inhabitants of Latin America--which is exactly what the DNA shows.

Critics who focus on early concepts of a hemispheric setting are focusing on what some of Joseph's contemporaries speculated, not on what Joseph actually taught. That should be made crystal clear in this DNA essay.
The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6
This paragraph avoids the problem of the Wentworth letter by referring to "the Book of Mormon itself." However, as previously noted, Lehi taught that other nations did not know about the land of his inheritance. Nephite kings and judges, as well as Lamanite kings, ruled entire territories, a claim that would not be credible if they were not the predominant or exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied.
What purpose does this paragraph serve? It accommodates the M2C theory.

M2C requires that the Nephites were a subset of a much larger, sophisticated culture, but neither Joseph Smith nor the Book of Mormon required or even implied such an idea.
6. John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992): 1–34. These arguments were summarized more recently in John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013). Sorenson suggests that indicators in the book’s text makes it “inescapable that there were substantial populations in the ‘promised land’ throughout the period of the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also” (“When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 34). Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas. See Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual (2012): 196.
Notice the contrast between the "neutral" language of the note ("Sorenson suggests") and the decidedly not "neutral" language of the actual quotation from Brother Sorenson's article (inescapable that there were substantial populations"). 
Aside from the incongruity of quoting the scholars instead of the scriptures, careful readers observe how confident--even insistent--Brother Sorenson is that Lehi was wrong.
We have to admire the inclusion of this footnote for another reason. Recall that in Mormon's Codex, Brother Sorenson wrote, among others, these gems:
A large number of convergences or correspondences between the information from Mesoamerican studies and that from the Book of Mormon are presented in the following chapters. Their number and nature show beyond question that the Book of Mormon had to come from an ancient Mesoamerican document.
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. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history. 
This supposedly "neutral" Gospel Topics essay cites the least-neutral book on the topic in existence. Mormon's Codex is a polemical book that excludes any other possible book of Mormon setting and frames the teachings of the prophets as "manifestly absurd."
Next, the essay offers this qualification:

"Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas."
The scholar the essay cited in the immediately preceding sentences categorically excludes any hypothesis other than his own as plausible

The essay never cites, acknowledges or even hints at alternative hypotheses, plausible or not. Instead, it cites a scholar who specifically repudiates and ridicules the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
True, the essay does not overtly declare that the prophets were wrong. Instead, it adopts the methodology practiced by M2C scholars and the Correlation Department, which is more subtle; i.e., they confuse readers by conflating the teachings of the prophets, the way this sentence in the essay does.
The essay conflates two clear and consistent teachings by the prophets and apostles:
1. The Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
2. We don't know for sure where any of the other events took place.
Technically, one can say "the Church" has no official position because it is only the prophets and apostles who have taught the New York Cumorah. I don't know how "the Church" has an official position on anything, except when there's a press release or statement about the position of "the Church" on a given topic. 

Normally, we learn from what the prophets and apostles teach, and they have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is in New York. No prophet or apostle has ever modified, questioned, or repudiated these teachings. 
Nor has "the Church" modified, questioned, or repudiated the teachings about the New York Cumorah. Plus, official Church publications have included teachings about the New York Cumorah, including Letter VII, several times. 
Consequently, I don't believe this footnote in a Gospel Topics essay overrules decades of teachings by the prophets and apostles. I think it merely reaffirms the second component; i.e., that we don't know for sure where the other events took place.
Neverthelsss, I have to pay close attention to what this essay is saying. It encourages readers to go to Mormon's Codex, which expressly claims that the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are "manifestly absurd." 
It is difficult for me to believe that our current prophets feel this way about the clear, consistent teachings of their predecessors, but this essay does tend to support those who make that claim. 
I encourage whoever is responsible for this essay to clarify the issue. If "the Church" is actually neutral on the question of Book of Mormon geography, it should not publish an essay that declares the teachings of the prophets to be "manifestly absurd." 
If "the Church" does think the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are manifestly absurd, the essay should state it more directly.
Either way, as the essay now stands, it is definitely not neutral.
Even if it was neutral, how can one be "neutral" about whether or not the prophets teach the truth? If we're "neutral" about whether members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference are teaching the truth, what are we doing?

This essay's approach sets a precedent for some future scholar to insert a footnote to the effect that "the Church" is "neutral" about any topic taught by the prophets that the particular scholar disagrees with.
At the April 1929 general conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency cautioned: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon … does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the peoples it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.”7
7. Anthony W. Ivins, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 15. 
This quotation is useful for the specific point that, consistent with what Joseph taught in the Wentworth letter, the Book of Mormon does not address the inhabitants of the entire American continent, North and South. However, President Ivins was not teaching that we know nothing about Book of Mormon geography. He was specifically referring to the location of the City of Zarahemla. Exactly one year earlier, in the April 1928 General Conference, President Ivins gave an address commemorating the Church's acquisition of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Among other things he stated that the "following facts" were firmly established:
That the hill Cumorah, and the hill Ramah are identical. 
That it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their great last battles. 
That it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his son, Moroni.
We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them.
I discussed this discourse here:
This all means that President Ivins, in two General Conference addresses, laid out the consistent, persistent teachings of the prophets that (i) Cumorah is in New York and (ii) we don't know where the other events took place. 

This DNA essay causes confusion by not informing readers of these two distinct and clear teachings. Instead, it conflates the two teachings, just as the M2C intellectuals have been doing for decades. 
Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon,8 
This is pure mind reading. By omitting what Joseph actually wrote in the Wentworth letter, the essay leaves readers to wonder what, if anything, Joseph actually taught on this topic. 
8. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3 (Sept. 15, 1842): 922. This article is unattributed but was published under Joseph Smith’s editorship. See also Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988): 250.
This is one of the anonymous Times and Seasons articles that laid the foundation for M2C; i.e., the M2C scholars claim Joseph was confused about Book of Mormon geography, speculated about the New York Cumorah, and misled the Church until he read about Mesoamerica in a travel book in Nauvoo, at which time he changed his mind because he was "open" to the scholars.

It's a transparent effort to exalt the scholars over the prophets.
Readers here know that I think the historical evidence demonstrates that Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons, that he had nothing to do with editing or writing anything he didn't individually sign, and that he resigned as nominal editor after these anonymous Mesoamerican articles were published without his knowledge or approval. 

So far, no historian has come up with any evidence that Joseph was involved with any of these articles, apart from a "stylometry" analysis that is highly suspect at best because the authors refuse to make public their assumptions, database, or software. 
This leaves us with a contrast between Joseph's explicit statement in the Wentworth letter, quoted above, and the mind-reading assumptions of the M2C scholars. And yet this essay features the mind reading while omitting Joseph's actual statement. That's the opposite of neutrality.   
and many Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found the Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established populations.9 
Here again, the essay cites scholars instead of prophets, although it may be alluding back to President Ivins. This is worded vaguely enough that it doesn't contradict Joseph's statement in the Wentworth letter. 
9. For a review of statements on this subject, see Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15, no. 2 (2003): 91–128.
This is a fascinating citation. Brother Roper is one of the authors of the suspect "stylometry" study that confirmed his M2C bias. He's employed by Book of Mormon Central Censor to write articles that promote M2C and oppose alternatives, including the teachings of the prophets. He's one of the best-known advocate of M2C and he's anything but neutral.
For an analysis of the cited paper, see my post here:
The 2006 update to the introduction of the Book of Mormon reflects this understanding by stating that Book of Mormon peoples were “among the ancestors of the American Indians.”10
10. Introduction to the Book of Mormon, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2006). The introduction, which is not part of the text of the Book of Mormon, previously stated that the Lamanites were the “principal ancestors of the American Indians.” Even this statement, first published in 1981, implies the presence of others. (Introduction to the Book of Mormon, 1981 ed.) Early in the Book of Mormon, the name Lamanite refers to the descendants of Laman and Lemuel (see 2 Nephi 5:14 and Jacob 1:13). Hundreds of years later, it came to identify all those with a different political or religious affiliation than the keepers of the Book of Mormon plates (see Helaman 11:24 and 4 Nephi 1:20).
Notice that the original Introduction followed what Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter in the section I quoted above in my comments. This is the same section that was censored from the lesson manual. 
In my view, there's nothing wrong with the original statement, provided it refers to the "Indians that live in this country," the way Joseph Smith described them.
They why make the change to the Introduction, and why all this explanation in this essay on DNA?
The simple reason is that M2C requires it.
If the Nephites lived in what is now the United States and never ventured south of, say, Texas, then Joseph's statement in the Wentworth letter and the original Introduction make sense. It's only when we claim the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica that we have to change the introduction and censor Joseph's teachings. 
Nothing is known about the extent of intermarriage and genetic mixing between Book of Mormon peoples or their descendants and other inhabitants of the Americas, though some mixing appears evident, even during the period covered by the book’s text.11
11. John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 5–12.
This is a fair statement. In fact, it's important to recognize the widespread intermarriage and migrations that took place after the Nephites were destroyed around 400 A.D. To the extent the blood of Lehi survives in some sense among the indigenous people of Latin America, it can be attributed to these later migrations. The presence of Lehi's descendants in Latin America or elsewhere has nothing to do with the location of the events in the Book of Mormon.
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Bottom line:

If this Gospel Topics essay is intended to reflect a position of "neutrality" regarding Book of Mormon geography, it needs to be revised to eliminate or at least mitigate the uniform and strong M2C orientation it currently has.
If the Church is officially repudiating the teachings of past prophets and apostles regarding the New York Cumorah, the essay should make that explicit. As it currently reads, this essay causes great confusion among members of the Church as well as nonmembers.
At a minimum, the essay should explain and reconcile the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and Joseph's teachings in the Wentworth letter. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

President Nelson, good information, and M2C

I have a new blog that considers the teachings of President Russell M. Nelson.

My latest post is here:

https://presidentnelsonspeaks.blogspot.com/2018/11/good-inspiration-and-good-information.html

You should subscribe to it because I'm going to spend more time over there than here.

The reason is that by now, everyone knows the issue of Book of Mormon geography boils down to a simple choice:

1. You accept the teachings of the prophets that Cumorah is in New York; 

or

2. You accept the teachings of the M2C intellectuals that the prophets are wrong.

There is no middle ground. 
There is no alternative. 

If you think there is an alternative, you are trying to avoid the cognitive dissonance that this choice presents. You want to believe the prophets, but you also want to believe M2C.

M2C intellectuals confront Letter VII's New York Cumorah
M2C intellectuals and their followers try to escape their cognitive dissonance by saying that the prophets were merely expressing their own opinions, so it doesn't matter that they were wrong. But that's what everyone says when they disagrees with the prophets about any topic.

Here's a key point: the New York Cumorah does not determine any other geographical issues.

While the prophets have consistently taught that Cumorah is in New York, they've just as consistently taught that we don't know where the other events took place.

You can accept the New York Cumorah and still believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the other events. A lot of people do. I have no problem with that.

But I have a major problem with M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) because the foundation of M2C--the sole reason for its existence--is the teaching that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. (This is the same problem for those who advocate Cumorah is in Baja, Panama, Peru, Chile, etc.)
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The M2C intellectuals invented the idea of "two Cumorahs" because they recognize that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries and successors all taught that the hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York. But the way these intellectuals interpret the text requires that the "real" Cumorah be located in southern Mexico. Therefore, they conclude the prophets must be wrong.

Most active members of the Church don't think the prophets are wrong; otherwise, they wouldn't be active members of the Church.

Hence, the dilemma for M2C.

The M2C intellectuals know the only way they can perpetuate M2C is by censoring the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and all the information that corroborates those teachings.

The M2C citation cartel uses censorship and obfuscation to prevent members of the Church (as well as nonmembers) from making informed decisions about what to believe regarding the Book of Mormon.
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For me, this is an easy choice, really.

I recognize there is plausible scientific (archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc.) evidence for M2C. After all, I thoughtfully accepted M2C for decades. There is plausible scientific evidence for every theory that I've seen so far. Those who say otherwise are merely expressing their own confirmation bias.

When exposed to someone else's point of view, many people are blinded by their cognitive dissonance. Their minds literally prevent them from seeing evidence that contradicts their own beliefs. When they can see the evidence, they interpret it in a way that confirms their biases.

Scientific evidence doesn't exist in a vacuum, of course. It's always subject to interpretation--interpretation of the text as well as interpretation of the relevant facts. That's why I think it's funny that Brother John Sorenson wrote, in Mormon's Codex,

A large number of convergences or correspondences between the information from Mesoamerican studies and that from the Book of Mormon are presented in the following chapters. Their number and nature show beyond question that the Book of Mormon had to come from an ancient Mesoamerican document.

It's anti-science so claim such a theory is "beyond question."

M2C depends on a delusion of infallibility.

The M2C citation cartel exists because its members actually believe their ideas are beyond question!

What makes Brother Sorenson's delusion a matter of public comment is the sad reality that many members of the Church share the same delusion about M2C--because they are intentionally kept ignorant of alternatives, including the teachings of the prophets.
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One of my favorite aspects of M2C is how its proponents claim they apply scientific principles. Yet the vast majority of Mesoamerican scholars think M2C is unscientific. It is only a handful of Mesoamerican scholars, mostly at BYU, who insist their M2C theory is "beyond question."

This anti-science approach is why M2C is not credible to anyone who doesn't already share the M2C bias.

Then why do so many Church members seem to accept M2C?

Simply because they don't know any better. The M2C citation cartel prevents members of the Church from making informed decisions. Tomorrow we'll see an example from the Gospel Topics essays.

Normally, we expect academics to oppose censorship, but the M2C intellectuals depend on censorship.

On what basis does the M2C citation cartel justify censoring and opposing the teachings of the prophets?

Why would M2C intellectuals take the anti-science position that their theory is "beyond question?"

They need their followers to believe that M2C is the only credible explanation for the Book of Mormon because otherwise, people will look around and discover there is plenty of scientific evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Censorship is only way the M2C citation cartel can deal with its members' (and followers') cognitive dissonance. This explains the editorial positions taken by the members of the M2C citation cartel (Book of Mormon Central Censor, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairlyMormon, Meridian Magazine, etc.).
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Now, you can be sure that these LDS scholars are not comfortable with people knowing they have repudiated the teachings of the prophets. Let's look at how they obfuscate their position to confuse members (and leaders) of the Church.

When I returned from my first mission (to France), the first General Conference I watched was October, 1975. You can see the entire conference report here:

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1975/10?lang=eng

The first three sessions were opened by members of the First Presidency:

Friday morning: President Spencer W. Kimball
Friday afternoon: President N. Eldon Tanner
Saturday morning: President Marion G. Romney

President Romney's talk, titled "America's Destiny," declared in no uncertain terms that the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates is, in reality, the hill Cumorah where the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place. You can read or watch it here:

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1975/10/americas-destiny?lang=eng

Three years later, another Apostle speaking in General Conference reaffirmed the New York Cumorah yet again.

These two conference addresses were part of a long line of consistent and persistent teachings by the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

No prophet or apostle has ever modified or questioned these teachings, let alone repudiated them.

So how do our M2C scholars justify their rejection of this teaching?

They claim these prophets were merely speaking as men, and they were wrong.

Obviously, that doesn't go over well with most members of the Church--especially those who don't  already share their M2C infallibility delusion.

The fallback M2C position is to claim equivalence; i.e., sure, maybe they, as scholars, are not infallible, but the prophets aren't infallible, either.

To confirm their bias, the M2C intellectuals go through and deconstruct every one of the historical accounts that corroborate Letter VII and the subsequent teachings of the prophets. They then proceed to do the same with all the scientific evidence that corroborates the teachings of the prophets.

Which leaves us back at the beginning: do we choose to believe the prophets or the scholars?
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Another fallback position taken by the M2C intellectuals is to cite the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which includes a hilariously self-serving entry on Cumorah, written by David Palmer, who cites only his own book. I've discussed EoM and Palmer in detail on this blog before. I included links on my PresidentNelsonSpeaks blog, referenced at the beginning of this post.
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Bottom line, members of the Church are free to believe whatever they want, as our Articles of Faith explain.

I don't care what anyone else thinks. I'm fine with M2C scholars thinking the prophets are wrong. That's their choice.

BYU fantasy map that teaches LDS students
the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah
I'm not as fine with them teaching all the youth in the Church that the prophets are wrong, but I'd be okay even with that if they would also at least inform students what the prophets have actually taught. That would let the students make informed decisions.

But instead, the M2C intellectuals and their followers inflict their own cognitive dissonance onto their students by using fantasy M2C maps, without informing them what the prophets have taught.

This is a short-sighted, tragic approach because eventually, most members of the Church will discover what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.
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As I wrote at the outset, I think the M2C intellectuals know the only way they can perpetuate M2C is by censoring the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and all the information that corroborates those teachings.

Censorship creates darkness. 

And to paraphrase the Washington Post, Truth Dies in Darkness. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Illusions and M2C

People continue to ask how anyone can still believe in M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). The short answer is that it's an illusion that M2C believers accept because it confirms their biases, as I'll explain below.

The overriding assumption behind M2C, the assumption that everything rests upon, is that the prophets and apostles are wrong. Once you accept that assumption, you have no constraints.

Using the methodology of the M2C intellectuals, it would be difficult to find a place anywhere in the world that would not "qualify" as a setting for the Book of Mormon. You just make an assumption (in this case Mesoamerica) and then interpret the text to conform to whatever evidence you can find, no matter how illusory.
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The other day we went hiking on a mountain to see, from the ground, one of the most famous natural illusions in the world: the underwater waterfall.

The water is actually quite shallow here. At low tide you could walk all the way to the outer reef if you wanted. When we snorkel during low tide it's almost too shallow to swim over the coral and sea weed.

While the sea is deeper beyond the coral rim (where the breakers are), there is no actual "underwater waterfall" as the photo suggests.

It's an illusion.

This article explains how the illusion works.

https://earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/522/what-is-responsible-for-the-underwater-waterfall-illusion-of-mauritius-island

I took this selfie so you can see what the area looks like from the ground. You can see there is no actual underwater waterfall.

I had a similar experience with a major illusion years ago when I toured ancient Mayan sites in Central America.

They were not what I expected after having read M2C literature for decades. M2C is entirely an illusion.
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M2C became widely accepted by LDS intellectuals and their students because it's an effective illusion constructed with a combination of two elements:

1. A mistake in Church history; and

2. Intellectual arrogance and confirmation bias.

As one of the students (victims) of M2C scholars myself, I can explain from my own experience why I actually believed in M2C for decades.

The last big secret in Church History
1. Through all my years as a seminary and BYU student, I never learned what the prophets and apostles taught about the New York Cumorah. I never heard about Letter VII. I may have heard or read some isolated teachings about Cumorah, but my M2C professors emphasized that Joseph Smith himself believed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America, thanks to the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons.

Now, of course, I realize that was a mistake--a false interpretation of Church history. Joseph never once connected the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

The initial premise for M2C is nothing more than a mistaken inference that Joseph Smith wrote, or endorsed, what was actually someone else's speculation about Book of Mormon geography.

What I find fascinating is the way the M2C intellectuals (including Church historians) are dealing with this historical mistake.

Rather than re-assess their long-held views, they have doubled down on the error. They have perpetuated the myth that Joseph Smith changed his mind about the New York Cumorah. They have tried to frame Letter VII itself as a mistake. 

And now they have formally falsified Church history in Saints by portraying characters who never even heard of the Hill Cumorah.

Today's students, and future generations, will be even more ignorant of the teachings of the prophets and apostles than I was. This is especially ironic in the Internet age.

The tragedy is, unless there is a course correction, today's youth are more likely to learn the truth from anti-Mormon critics than from their CES, BYU and other Church-affiliated teachers.

This is all the worse because CES is otherwise a wonderful institution. I enthusiastically support everything CES does, with the sole exception of teaching the Book of Mormon by using fantasy maps that teach students the prophets are wrong.

2. My M2C teachers in Seminary and BYU persuaded me to believe the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. They did so sincerely, because that is what they had been taught by their BYU/CES teachers. 

Naturally, everything they read from the M2C citation cartel confirmed their bias.

Naively, I believed my BYU/CES teachers knew more than the prophets.

As I mentioned in my last post, today's students are being misled by their M2C teachers just as much as I was.

I created this short video to show how current BYU professors respond to the teachings of the prophets.

It is difficult to think of something that is more destructive to faith than to have an active LDS youth attend Seminary, Institute, or a BYU campus, where everything is positive and faith-affirming, only to be taught that the prophets and apostles are wrong whenever they disagree with the scholars.

Yet that is exactly what is going on right now.
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The M2C illusion; there are no black
dots in this image, just as there is no
evidence of the Book of Mormon in
ancient Mesoamerica
M2C is a powerful illusion. For a BYU or CES student, it's easy to accept. As a student, you hear only the M2C interpretation of the text. You see only the M2C maps. You read only the M2C materials that explain how only Mesoamerica fits the "requirements" of the Book of Mormon.

If you read materials by FairlyMormon, Book of Mormon Central Censor or BYU Studies, your M2C bias will be repeatedly confirmed. Those organizations and other members of the M2C citation cartel engage in consistent and stringent censorship to make sure readers learn only about things that confirm M2C.

They never reproduce or write about the teachings of the prophets, Letter VII, etc., except to persuade readers to disbelieve the prophets.

Lately, these M2C scholars are claiming they have been hired by the prophets to guide members of the Church, so that criticizing or even questioning these scholars constitutes rebellion against Church leaders.

Naturally, today's students accept whatever these scholars say. Put yourself in their place. What choice do you have?

Everything contrary to M2C has been censored, including in Saints.

Along with everything else one learns at college, you have faithful, smart, well-educated teachers who softly whisper that the prophets were merely giving their opinions as mere uninformed men when they spoke about the New York Cumorah.
BYU fantasy map that teaches
the prophets are wrong

Such naive opinions pale in comparison to the extensive scholarship and widespread consensus that supports M2C.

On top of that, to support M2C, CES and BYU developed "abstract maps" of the Book of Mormon geography that frame the scriptures as having taken place in a fantasy land.

All BYU and CES students are required to use these maps to study the Book of Mormon.

The people who developed these maps claim they are based on the text of the Book of Mormon.
Original John Sorenson map

Of course, they are not based on the text.

Instead, they are based on a specific interpretation of the text, created by a consensus of M2C scholars.

No one who disagrees with M2C was consulted in the development of these maps. No one who still believes the prophets and apostles was consulted in the development of these maps.

Instead, they were based on the map developed by Brother John Sorenson, a long-time BYU professor who strongly advocated M2C. The M2C intellectuals merely turned Brother Sorenson's map by about 45 degrees and added cooler graphics to appeal to the video-game generation.

Now, CES and BYU teach the Book of Mormon as the equivalent of the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings, except with moral lessons and a testimony that it is "true," even though it took place in a fantasy land.

All the while explaining, quietly, that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
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John Sorenson, a long-time BYU professor, wrote several books and articles about M2C. Probably his most famous book is Mormon's Codex, a book published by Deseret Book and strongly endorsed by LDS intellectuals across many disciplines.

Brother Sorenson has been very persuasive. Most leading intellectuals in the Church defer to his work on matters of Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

For example, Brother Terryl Givens wrote the Foreword to the book. The entire M2C citation cartel embraces Brother Sorenson's interpretation of the text, although they disagree with him (and among themselves) on some of the details.

Let's look at some quotations from the book Mormon's Codex to see how and why the book is based on pure illusion, enforced by intellectual arrogance and confirmation bias.

Original in blue, my comments in red. Bolded emphasis mine.
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Terryl Givens' Foreword:
[N]o one doubts the Old World setting and ancient origins of the Old and New Testaments. Until such time as a preponderance of evidence provides comparable historical plausibility for the Book of Mormon's ancient origin, no one can expect scholars to consider the book as anything other than a nineteenth-century cultural artifact.

This is a fine, concise explanation of the importance of this issue, which in my view explains why Joseph and Oliver wrote and published Letter VII in the first place. But there's another important point here. Thanks to the academic cycle, what scholars believe soon becomes what students believe. Notice that Givens did not limit his observations to non-LDS scholars. I know lots of people, including active LDS, who don't think the Book of Mormon is an actual history. M2C is not rectifying that problem. In fact, far from convincing non-LDS scholars, M2C leaves such scholars even more dubious of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. At least a North American setting is consistent with (i) the teachings of LDS prophets and apostles and (ii) the relevant sciences. 

If such a time is to come, it will arrive in large measure through the efforts of John Sorenson, who has done more than any Latter-day Saint scholar to shift the terms of the Book of Mormon debates... 

Readers know that I mentioned Brother Sorenson in my introduction to Moroni's America because I agree he has made a major contribution by describing the text in a real world setting. However, by shifting the terms of the debates away from the New York Cumorah to a Mexican Cumorah, he has done more than anyone else to repudiate the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

Sorenson aims to make it intellectually respectable for academics to consider the Book of Mormon to be a translation of an authentic ancient American codex, or what he calls "a historically valid record."

Here, Brother Givens sort of implies that non-LDS academics are among those who consider the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient American codex, but I'm unaware of a single example. 

The term "academics" is a euphemism for the M2C citation cartel, the self-appointed people who decide for "ordinary members of the Church" what is and what is not "intellectually respectable." Of course, the M2C citation cartel is the only group of "academics" who accept Brother Sorenson's M2C framing; those who don't accept M2C are deemed not "intellectual respectable," which justifies censorship of their work. 

So influential has Sorenson's work on Book of Mormon geography been that there is a widespread consensus among believing scholars in support of what is now called the "Sorenson model," which identifies the scripture's setting with a Mesoamerican locale.

Here is the description of the M2C citation cartel. If you're a "believing scholar," you must accept the Sorenson model. Givens infers a broad definition of "believing" here, to connote believers in the Book of Mormon generally, but in reality his term is circular; i.e., those who believe in M2C accept the "widespread consensus," but those scholars who believe in the Book of Mormon but don't believe in M2C don't accept the consensus. One wonders if Givens, as an M2C scholar himself, is even aware of those who don't accept M2C.

This framing is part of the justification for the ongoing, persistent censorship of anything that doesn't support M2C, including the tragedy of Saints.  

John Sorenson, Preface
This book presents a wide array of evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient historical record that could only have been produced by a writer who lived in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and northern Central America) many centuries before Spanish explorers reached that area.

This is Brother Sorenson's first sentence of the book and it reveals the bias the entire book seeks to confirm. One of the reasons M2C depends on illusory "correspondences" and confirmation bias is the unwillingness (or inability) of M2C advocates to consider alternative interpretations of the text and the evidence. In other words, Mormon's Codex is an advocacy text, akin to a legal argument. It is in no sense objective or even-handed, despite its framing as "academic." 

And really, M2C itself boils down to circular reasoning. It starts with the assumption that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica because of the Times and Seasons articles, which means there must be evidence in Mesoamerica. Next, Brother Sorenson assembles isolated tidbits of "evidence" ("correspondences") to support the assumption, inventing interpretations of the text that align with these correspondences, all to prove the original assumption was correct.

This is why non-LDS (and non-M2C) scholars find Mormon's Codex completely unpersuasive. 

But when you read Mormon's Codex as a peer, friend, colleague of Brother Sorenson's, and you see how completely confident he is that the Book of Mormon could only have been produced by a Mesoamerican author, you have to agree with him. You have no reason not to. His acknowledgment emphasizes the sacrifices and contributions made by his family and a host of colleagues, thereby cementing the confirmation bias.

John Sorenson, Introduction
This study demonstrates that the immediate source for the Book of Mormon was a Mesoamerican native book, or codex, produced by authors who lived in southern Mexico more than 1,500 years ago. Hundreds of statements in the Book of Mormon constitute "Mesoamericanisms"... That information could have been provided only by men with a detailed knowledge of the natural setting, history, and social and cultural milieu of southern Mexico and northern Central America gained by prolonged personal experience in that area.

Notice the lack of normal academic modesty. Mormon's Codex is not a theory or proposal; it is the only possible explanation for the Book of Mormon. 

This rhetorical technique is highly persuasive to those who seek to confirm their biases. It creates a sense of obviousness that, to someone who does not share the bias, is transparently phony. As you read Mormon's Codex, you see this pattern repeated constantly. One is reminded of Shakespeare's "the lady doth protest too much, methinks." 

If the evidence were anywhere near as conclusive as Brother Sorenson and the M2C citation cartel want us to believe, the evidence would speak for itself far more powerfully than this rhetoric.

Given those cultural and historical elements that appear in the Book of Mormon, the only acceptable explanation is that Joseph Smith had in his possession a native Mesoamerican codex that he translated into English.

Recall, Mormon's Codex was published by Deseret Book, which heavily promoted the book. It was endorsed not only by Terryl Givens but by many other LDS scholars and intellectuals. I'm unaware of any who objected to it or who criticized its main conclusions about M2C. 

Plus, Mormon's Codex was cited in the Gospel Topics essay on DNA (the one that also teaches Darwinian evolution). See note 6 here: https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng

All of this has led to a quasi-official endorsement of Mormon's Codex, including M2C. 

Imagine you're a student at CES or BYU. Your teachers fully endorse M2C. They teach you Book of Mormon events using an "abstract" fantasy map based on the one in Mormon's Codex. You never hear anything that contradicts or challenges M2C. If you're diligent and you discover the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah on your own, your teachers will all tell you the prophets were merely speculating and they were wrong.

You're left with two alternatives: M2C or the Book of Mormon is fiction, based on the fantasy maps you're being taught.

The possibility that the prophets and apostles taught the truth about Cumorah isn't even an option.

Where does that leave you as a missionary, parent, or Church leader?  

From Jerusalem they [the family of Lehi] traveled through western Arabia to the south coast of that peninsula. There they constructed a ship in which they sailed across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the west coat of Central America... The Nephites were finally exterminated as a social or cultural entity by Lamanite foes around ad 380 in southern Mexico... They [the Mulekites] also settled in southern Mexico near where, and at about that same time as, the Jaredites met their demise early in the sixth century bc.

Notice how Brother Sorenson states his theory as fact and weaves it into what the text actually says. This is a clever example of mingling the philosophies of men with scripture.

Brother Sorenson's comments about the destruction of the Jaredites in southern Mexico is a direct, intentional repudiation of the teachings of the prophets and apostles, but he wisely never brings up that contrast. Instead, he writes, 

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. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.

Among these "Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York" are President Joseph Fielding Smith, President Marion G. Romney, Elder James E. Talmage, Elder LeGrand Richards, and many others who declared, in their writings and in General Conference, this "idea" that our M2C scholars have denounced as "manifestly absurd."

Those of us who have dealt most extensively with this issue are confident from the evidence in the text that the area is Mesoamerica broadly... 

There is no "evidence in the text," of course; such evidence is purely an outcome-oriented interpretation of the text. That's why there are dozens of maps, including many variations of M2C. No two people can possibly derive an identical "abstract" map because the information in the text is too vague. 

Developing an "abstract map" by consensus is a fool's errand because people reaching an agreement about an interpretation is not the same as a "correct" interpretation. This is the council of Springville I wrote about, and the problem is especially relevant when all the people involved with the consensus--the M2C citation cartel members--have already reached their own consensus about how to interpret the text. 

Furthermore, when Brother Sorenson writes about those who "have dealt most extensively with this issue," he does not include anyone who disagrees with M2C. This is breathtaking academic myopia. Mormon's Codex was written from within the M2C bubble to confirm the biases of those within the same bubble, but thanks to how it was promoted and endorsed, the book expanded the bubble to absorb teachers at CES and BYU, and from there it expanded to encompass most members of the Church. 

... were we to assume an incorrect location for the cultures documented in the Book of Mormon, our search for parallels in the scholarly record would be futile to begin with, for we would be looking at the wrong archaeological data.

Here is as good a description of circular reasoning as you are going to find anywhere. The M2C intellectuals actually think that the "parallels" they have found prove they did not assume an incorrect location. 

If you read Mormon's Codex or any of the work of the M2C citation cartel, you'll notice this same pattern. They cite a specific fact as a "correspondence" to their interpretation of the text, and then claim they're looking in the correct location because they found the evidence. But so far, every "correspondence" they've described is either a ubiquitous component of human society (such as banners or flags) or applies to the text only because of their own subjective interpretation (such as the term "tower" in the text meaning a massive stone Mayan pyramid). 

A large number of convergences or correspondences between the information from Mesoamerican studies and that from the Book of Mormon are presented in the following chapters. Their number and nature show beyond question that the Book of Mormon had to come from an ancient Mesoamerican document.

One of the biggest puzzles in Mormon's Codex is how statements such as this made it past an editor. The number of so-called "convergences" is irrelevant when every one is illusory. 

Worse, if this evidence proved the thesis "beyond question," then no one could doubt it. But there are literally zero Mesoamerican experts (outside a handful of LDS scholars) who accept the "evidence" for the purposes Brother Sorenson claims. 

This rhetoric is consistent with one concept, though: the notion that the prophets have hired the scholars to guide members of the Church, which means that at least for Church members who sustain the prophets, the scholars' conclusions are "beyond question."

I'm not saying Mormon's Codex is the only source for the belief among young M2C scholars that their mentors cannot be questioned, but this rhetoric certainly helps fuel the fire of misplaced zeal.

Sorenson, Chapter 2

[Sorenson's abstract map] is the most accurate version constructed thus far of the geography Mormon had in his mind.

This one is another question for the editor (assuming there was an editor). How does mind-reading make its way into an academic book?

Notice the layers of problems here. First, we're missing the Book of Lehi, a volume that covered Lehi's journey from Jerusalem to the New World all the way through King Mosiah's discovery of the people of Zarahemla. It's possible that Mormon's abridgment of the Book of Lehi said nothing about the geography, but given the rest of his abridgment, it seems far more likely that Mormon based his geographical references in Mosiah through Mormon on what he had already established in the abridged Book of Lehi. 

Brother Sorenson is taking a subset of Mormon's geographical references and interpreting them to determine what Mormon had in his mind. That's like taking the last two thirds of Hamlet and inferring the events of the first third accurately.

Nephi's original record gives few geographical references, especially about the New World. 

In terms of accuracy, notice in the following excerpts the assumptions Sorenson makes:

Book of Mormon textual references to not allow much leeway in placing geographic features in relation to one another. 

Most of the directions are vague; i.e., northward. Often distances are given in terms of "many days." How could a text give more leeway than this?

For instance, arriving at a figure for the separation in miles between the city of Zarahemla and the city of Nephi depends on certain limiting facts about particular journeys. 

Sorenson relies on accounts from the Book of Mosiah, which never mention the city of Zarahemla. Instead, the text refers to the land of Zarahemla, or just Zarahemla. He simply infers there was a city, and then claims there is no leeway.

Accounts of travel by groups between the two cities report (or imply) that a party of ancient travelers (at least one time including women, children, and flocks) required about 22 days to make the trip, 

Because the text doesn't claim travel between the two cities, any implications are pure speculation.

much of it evidently through mountainous terrain. 

Nowhere does the text state or imply that the terrain was mountainous until it refers to the Gadianton robbers, and even then the text appears to refer to small "mountains" from which the robbers could easily and quickly "sally forth."

Assuming (on the basis of travel data from a time before motor vehicles came into use) that such a party would be limited to traveling a certain number of miles per day, we arrive at a plausible total number of miles separating the two, a distance on the order of 180 miles (290 km). 

People have debated the details of this final "assumption" with no possible resolution because the text simply does not provide the necessary detail.

This list of assumptions that Brother Sorenson claims "do not allow much leeway" are pure confirmation bias. He has decided on a setting--Mesoamerica--and then interpreted the text to meet his assumption. Nothing about this is academically rigorous, let alone "most accurate" or "beyond question."

Mormon's Codex is replete with this type of phony conclusiveness. How this book became the foundation for CES/BYU curriculum, and the justification for the revisionist Church historians who created a false narrative in Saints and are systematically censoring actual Church history to promote M2C, is a topic for another blog post.
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Meanwhile, whenever you read something published by the M2C citation cartel, or anything that cites their work, be on the lookout for this type of confirmation bias and illusory evidence.

And above all, measure what you read by the standard of the teachings of the prophets and apostles. Whenever a scholar, LDS or otherwise, tells you the prophets are wrong because they disagree with what the scholar believes, I encourage you to stick with the prophets and apostles.