Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The fiction narrative - Grapes of thorns

Fantasy map: the seed of fiction
Unless there is a change of course soon, within a few years it will become commonplace for faithful members of the Church to believe and teach that the Book of Mormon is fiction. Even today it's not unusual to meet active members who think this.

The seeds of the fiction narrative have already been planted in the minds of the youth.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that the fiction narrative will produce the fruit of strong testimonies and conviction.

After all, do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

From the time a handful of scholars persuaded so many LDS to disbelieve the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, the fiction narrative became inevitable.

IOW, the M2C narrative leads directly to the fiction narrative. Looking for Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica is like looking for Biblical sites in eastern China because there are ancient cities there. If one tried hard enough, one could find "correspondences" between those ancient cities and the descriptions in the Bible, applying the same circular reasoning that the M2C advocates apply to "see" the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica.

Some people find it impossible to believe that the fiction narrative would ever become mainstream in the Church.

But the seed of fiction cannot produce the fruit of divine authenticity.

Think about the fruit another seed has produced.

Twenty years ago, members of the Church would have said it was impossible that someday, LDS scholars would teach that Joseph Smith didn't really translate the Book of Mormon, that he didn't use the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and that he didn't even use the plates themselves.

After all, Joseph and Oliver consistently and persistently taught that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. The revelations in the D&C teach the same thing. The prophets have reaffirmed their testimony innumerable times over the years.

And yet, here we are today.

The ideas that Joseph didn't use the plates, didn't use the Urim and Thummim, and didn't translate anything is completely mainstream.

Scene from Church film that teaches the
stone-in-a-hat theory of translation
This is a still image from a movie now being shown in visitors centers that depict Joseph Smith staring at a stone in a hat to dictate the text, while the plates remain under a cloth, a useless prop.

The script for this film was adapted from a passage in the 1834 book, Mormonism Unvailed.

Here is the passage.

now playing at a
Visitors Center
near you
The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him [Joseph] every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book. 

The screenwriters could have chosen instead to use the scriptures for a text, but the scholars and film producers claim the scriptures are, at best, misleading. They prefer Mormonism Unvailed over the scriptures.

Actually, they could have used another passage from Mormonism Unvailed:

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thumim mentioned in Exodus 28 — 30...

Of course, the second version is the one Joseph and Oliver testified was true. Right in the Pearl of Great Price, where everyone can read it, we have their testimony:

Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. ...  immediately after my arrival [in Pennsylvania] I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them... Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:52, 62, 67)

Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’
(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

I realize that our revisionist historians claim that when Joseph and Oliver used the term Urim and Thummim they actually meant the peep stone; i.e., they claim Joseph and Oliver were misleading the Church by using a code word for the peep stone described in Mormonism Unvailed

That's how they rationalize using Mormonism Unvailed instead of the scriptures to explain Church history and the origins of the Book of Mormon.

You can read it right in the Saints book, volume 1.

Buried with the plates, Moroni said, were two seer stones, which Joseph later called the Urim and Thummim, or interpreters. The Lord had prepared these stones to help Joseph translate the record.... Sometimes Joseph translated by looking through the interpreters and reading in English the characters on the plates. Often he found a single seer stone to be more convenient. He would put the seer stone in his hat, place his face into the hat to block out the light, and peer at the stone. Light from the stone would shine in the darkness, revealing words that Joseph dictated as Oliver rapidly copied them down.

Saints, Volume 1, pp. 22, 61, available here:

Saints teaches revisionist history that directly contradicts the scriptures quoted above and everything that Joseph and Oliver said about the translation. For example, here's what Joseph actually said about the Urim and Thummim:

He said unto me I am a Messenger sent from God, be faithful and keep his commandments in all things. He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham. He explained many of the prophecies to me; one of which I will mention, which is in Malachi 4th chapter. Behold, the day of the Lord cometh <​(&c​> He also informed me that the Urim & Thummim was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument;


It's undoubtedly true that several people testified they saw Joseph put a stone in a hat and dictate words. What they never testify to, however, is that Joseph said he was translating the Book of Mormon. They never relate what words he dictated. All the evidence indicates Joseph was demonstrating the process, not translating the Book of Mormon in front of an audience.

After all, Moroni (and the Lord) had told Joseph he could not show the plates or Urim and Thummim to anyone until the translation was complete. He couldn't possibly have translated the plates in public view without violating that prohibition.

With the peep stone in the hat narrative as precedent, do you still think it's impossible that the seed of the fiction narrative will bear fruit?

I posted some comments about the faith crisis here:


Monday, October 14, 2019

Paradigm shifts

Everyone loves and hates paradigm shifts, depending on whether they like or dislike the new paradigm. Everyone who promotes a new paradigm cites Thomas Kuhn and his Copernicus example, or another famous historical shift in understanding and perception. They don't cite the numerous attempts at creating a new paradigm that don't catch on because they are nonsense or because they are merely revivals of long-discredited ideas.

People continue to ask about the stone-in-a-hat issue. As I anticipated, thousands of people left Education Week in Provo last August believing that (i) Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a metaphysical teleprompter (the peep stone in a hat) and (ii) Joseph didn't translate the plates but instead the words were provided by an unknown intermediary translator.

The purveyors of this narrative have tried to frame it as a "paradigm shift" because that sounds smart, cool, progressive, and informed.

This peep-stone-in-a-hat narrative was revived a few years ago by a group of LDS historians. They claim it is a "new paradigm" but they forgot to mention a key fact.

This is not a "new paradigm" at all. It's a zombie version of an old narrative that was killed years ago by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

I discussed this here:

In that post, I observed this:

We can understand the chronology of the alternative theories through a simple chiasmus:

Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words off a stone-in-a-hat (critics) [1834]
     Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim (alternative account) [1834]
     Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim (taught for decades by LDS leaders) [1834-2015]
Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words off a stone-in-a-hat (revisionist historians) [2015 to present] 

The "paradigm shift" was presented to BYU educators in this article that comes complete with the inevitable Kuhn/Copernicus reference:

Alert educators could tell something was up. The article is basically an ad for the book, From Darkness unto Light. Worse, the article pretends that the peep stone narrative is new, and that everyone in the Church needs to adjust to this "paradigm shift."

Nowhere does From Darkness unto Light quote or discuss the peep stone theory as it was introduced in 1834 in the book Mormonism Unvailed. I included the relevant passage in the link above, but here it is again:

On page 18, which you can read hereMormonism Unvailed acknowledges two alternative explanations of the translation. The first involved the seer stone (which the book calls a "peep stone") that Joseph put in a hat to read off the words that appeared. Setting aside the sarcasm of this passage, we can see that the first paragraph below is what our revisionist Church historians are teaching today (although they claim Joseph saw a group of words instead of a single word at a time).

The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him [Joseph] every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book. 


South Park depiction of the
stone-in-a-hat theory
This version of the translation was been infamously portrayed in an episode of South Park, as well as on many web pages critical of the Church.

Now, this stone-in-a-hat theory has been embraced in Church publications, as mentioned above.

Mormonism Unvailed acknowledged an alternative explanation of the translation. This is the explanation that Joseph and Oliver always gave, albeit not exactly the way it is explained in Mormonism Unvailed.

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thumim mentioned in Exodus 28 — 30, and were brought away from Jerusalem by the heroes of the book, handed down from one generation to another, and finally buried up in Ontario county, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them ! 

Mormonism Unvailed is not noted for accuracy in its presentation about the Book of Mormon. Here, the authors missed the points that (i) the Urim and Thummim that Joseph received was not brought from Jerusalem by Lehi but instead had been used by the Jaredites in America, and (ii) Joseph actually looked at the plates with the spectacles.

However, the passage quoted above makes a clear delineation between the stone-in-a-hat theory and the Urim and Thummim narrative. (Elsewhere in the book the authors distinguish between the peep stone and the spectacles.) Everyone who read Mormonism Unvailed understood these were two competing explanations of the translation of the Book of Mormon. There was no suggestion that Joseph, Oliver, or anyone else referred to the "seer stone" as the Urim and Thummim. All contemporary accounts referred to the interpreters Moroni put in the stone box as the Urim and Thummim.

The peep stone theory is having the same effect today that Mr. Hurlbut hoped for when he published it in Mormonism Unvailed. The theory makes the plates themselves superfluous.

If an unknown "intermediary translator" could generate words that appeared on the metaphysical teleprompter (the peep stone in a hat), why did Mormon go to all the trouble of abridging the Nephite records? Why would the Nephites bother keeping records at all? Why would Moroni risk his life to preserve and add to the abridgment? Why bother with the plates of Nephi to replace the lost 116 pages?

Maybe we can replace the "paradigm shift" with another paradigm shift back to what the prophets have taught. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Revisiting evolution - BYU vs. math

A while ago I did a somewhat deep dive into the evolution issue. I read a lot, talked to a variety of people, etc. I concluded that the math didn't work for evolution, but I also recognized I wasn't enough of an expert to give an opinion and I didn't have anything original to contribute yet.

So I didn't write about it.

Some time ago, I saw that someone has discussed it in some length.


One of my favorite parts of this article is the first sentence of the second paragraph.

He’s not giving up Darwinism without some remorse. “It means one less beautiful idea in our world,” says David Gelernter.
This isn’t someone you’d expect to reject Darwin. He lives and works at the heart of the intellectual establishment. He’s a renowned computer scientist at Yale University — the New York Times called him a “rock star” — and served on the National Council on the Arts. 
The writer, Rachel Alexander, whom I presume is favorable toward Gelernter, frames this as "unexpected" because Gelernter is well educated and works at Yale. She's probably correct, which corroborates the point I made in another blog about the elites in Babylon.

And it also shows why our intellectuals have been promoting evolution.

I find this whole thing funny because just as our BYU intellectuals have managed to construct an "evolution" exhibit on campus in the Bean museum, and just as they've been able to convince most of their students that evolution is "true," we have a real scientist, detached from agendas and not trying to curry favor with his peers, announcing that evolution cannot explain the natural world.

Some of the BYU employees have shown the effectiveness of their persuasion.

Polling data reveal a decades-long residual rejection of evolution in the United States, based on perceived religious conflict. Similarly, a strong creationist movement has been documented internationally, including in the Muslim world. 

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon), a generally conservative denomination, have historically harbored strong anti-evolution sentiments. We report here a significant shift toward acceptance, compared to attitudes 30 years earlier, by students at Brigham Young University, which is owned and operated by the LDS church. 

This change appears to have multiple explanations. Students currently entering the university have been exposed to a much-improved introduction to evolution during high school. More importantly, there has been a significant decrease in negative messaging from Church authorities and in its religious education system. There is also evidence that current students have been positively influenced toward evolution by their parents, a large percentage of whom were BYU students, who earlier were given a strong science education deemed compatible with the maintenance of religious belief. 

A pre-post comparison demonstrates that a majority of current students become knowledgeable and accepting following a course experience focused on evolutionary principles delivered in a faith-friendly atmosphere. Elements of that classroom pedagogy, intended to promote reconciliation, are presented. 

Our experience may serve as a case-study for prompting changes in acceptance of evolution in other conservative religious groups.


Great. Just as uninhibited scientists figure out evolution cannot work, our BYU faculty is teaching the youth of the Church to believe evolution.

Here's a nice article on the evolution of evolution at BYU.


This one reflects some fun biases from the author as well. Here's a great line:

This message from the First Presidency was anti-evolution and science. 

Of course, nothing in the message was "anti-science." The message opposed the "theories of men."

Not to be left out, FairMormon chooses the ad hominem approach by attacking people instead of explaining the issues.


And, of course, Dan the Interpreter chimes in:


The end

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fluhman - Mason discussions

NOTE: a lot of subscribers here don't realize I've moved my main blog to

This BookofMormonWars blog is transitioning toward a broader discussion of the Book of Mormon, particularly among Christians.

In the meantime, I'll make occasional comments on LDS-related issues.

The discussion at the link below reminds me of what happens in non-LDS homes when a family members joins the LDS church. I've heard this type of concern many times in many places.


This conversation sounds like these fine brethren have never heard of this problem before, as if people leaving is a brand new idea to them. Of course, that's not the case. Both of them are well aware of the faith-crisis problems.

I agree with what Brother Mason said in this interview:

In general, I would like us to figure out what we really believe and then be unapologetic about it, even in our first encounter with interlocutors (if and when the question comes up).

If we don’t believe something, then we shouldn’t teach it and ideally should disavow it if it has been taught before.  If we’re unsure about something, then we should say so and then allow for a diversity of viewpoints.

I prefer a straightforward approach rather than tap dancing around unpopular or difficult issues, and believe that we gain more respect by being honest and confident than shifty and defensive.


"Shifty and defensive" is a great description of the M2C proponents. They resort to censorship to maintain the illusion of M2C. If instead the M2C citation cartel adopted the approach suggested by Mason here--i.e., allow for a diversity of viewpoints--I would have stopped blogging about M2C a long time ago.

Instead, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairMormon, and the rest continue to promote M2C exclusively and disparage anyone who disagrees with them.

The M2C citation cartel is one of the underlying reasons for the problems Fluhman and Mason discuss in this conversation.

It's way past time to acknowledge, respect, and accommodate multiple views about Book of Mormon geography and historicity. Perhaps our scholars at BYU, CES, and COB will someday actually honor the Church's policy of neutrality.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Review of A Case for the Book of Mormon

People are asking me what I think of Tad R. Callister's book A Case for the Book of Mormon.

Overall, it's probably effective for bias confirmation; i.e., if you're a follower of the M2C citation cartel, you'll be happy to see your biases confirmed. There are plenty of citations of the usual suspects, all members of the M2C citation cartel.

However, if you still believe the teachings of the prophets, you might find parts of the book troublesome. And if you are a nonmember, a questioning member, or a youth seeking for answers, you will likely come away hoping that there is a much stronger case for the Book of Mormon than what is offered in this book.

For a positive review, read anything from Book of Mormon Central. Brother Callister is donating the proceeds of the book to Book of Mormon Central, so naturally, Book of Mormon Central and its employees are promoting the book as much as they can. He's a featured speaker at the FairMormon conference as well.

If you buy this book, you are helping to promote and promulgate M2C.

Here's an example of a positive review:

My take is a little different.

The book makes a good opening statement for a case for the Book of Mormon, but because it relies so much on material from FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the M2C citation cartel, it is ultimately not all that helpful for people who seek answers to questions posed by knowledgeable critics.

Here, I'll give just two examples of the issues I noted.

At one point, Callister writes:

To suggest that Joseph Smith dictated more than five hundred pages of history and doctrine with no notes or rewrites (only minor changes to his original draft, and most of them grammatical, without the aid of any gospel scholars, and without the power of God, in approximately sixty-five working days, is totally incomprehensible and inconsistent with my experience and the experience of every doctrinal writer I know. It reminds me of the observation made by Hank Smith, a popular Latter-day Saint speaker and teacher: "A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an opinion." 35

35. Excerpt from various talks given by Hank Smith and confirmed to the author in an email dated Sept. 1, 2017.

While I agree that Joseph's dictation of the Book of Mormon is a demonstration of the gift and power of God, citing one's personal experience is not a persuasive argument. I'm told that Joseph only wrote out one sermon. Yet he delivered over 200 for which we have no record, and many more for which we have at least some record. In most if not all of these, he cited scripture from memory. 

Another problem is the quotation from Hank Smith in the footnote. It sounds a lot like this one from Leonard Ravenhill:

“A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”

Sourcing quotations is often difficult, but one must wonder if this one originated with Hank Smith or Ravenhill.

Here is a second example. In his book Brother Callister discusses the book The Late War based on a study by the Johnsons. 

Here's a point I make in an upcoming article:

The Johnson study [on The Late War] received a strange reaction from LDS scholars. They raised two objections. First, they sought to distance Joseph Smith from The Late War, claiming there is no evidence he ever read the book. Second, they claimed there were more differences than similarities.
For example, in his discussion of The Late War, Tad R. Callister, an LDS General Authority and former General Sunday School President, recently wrote, “I doubt that Joseph read any of the books alleged by the critics to be sources for the Book of Mormon before the translation process commenced. There is no historical evidence confirming that he did.”[1]
Despite his belief that Joseph did not read the book, Callister recognized the possibility. “In the event that Joseph read any of these books, no doubt he learned some words or phrases that enhanced his vocabulary that would be available for future use in translation—that would seem natural to me.”
It does seem natural; in fact, this is evidence that Joseph did translate the text in his own language. One wonders, why did Callister first argue that Joseph didn’t read the book?
Callister does not say, but we can infer that it could be because the current narrative among LDS historians holds that Joseph did not translate the plates; instead, these historians teach that Joseph merely read English words that appeared on a stone in a hat.[2] In that case, he wouldn’t need an “enhanced vocabulary” from The Late War or any other source.
The second argument by LDS scholars—that there are more differences than similarities between The Late War and the Book of Mormon—is an argument against outright plagiarism, but it rings hollow because it does not refute the critics’ point that The Late War influenced at least the vocabulary Joseph used in producing the Book of Mormon. Differences between the two books do not erase similarities. The question becomes how much influence, not whether there was any influence at all.

[1] Callister (2019): 79.
[2] See the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng&_r=1. The Church’s web page teaches Primary children that “Joseph used a special rock called a seer stone to translate the plates” and that “Joseph didn’t have much schooling, so he wasn’t good at writing or spelling.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/friend/2017/02/golden-plates-to-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Fighting Preacher - Willard Bean

If you haven't seen the movie The Fighting Preacher, you need to go ASAP. It's an outstanding depiction of a little-known aspect of LDS Church history.

97% on Rotten Tomatoes!


This is the story of Willard Bean, who was called on a mission to Palmyra in the early 1900s.

The boxing ring he set up was in the building across Main Street from today's Oliver Cowdery Memorial, too.

The photo in this article shows the boxing ring:


The movie is doing some good business, but not as good as it deserves. Go see it. And take someone.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Topics we can't talk about

There is an obvious reality when it comes to problems: if you can't talk about them, you can't fix them.

This is the elephant-in-the-room problem.

It is classic organizational behavior to ignore problems and pretend they don't exist. Management often considers it disloyal to discuss certain problems. Here is a good example from an article in Forbes that I link to at the end of this post.

After completing a culture assessment for a major corporation I was doing my “What? So what? and Now what?” presentation to the senior management team. That’s where I describe the results, point out the implications of the findings, and make recommendations for change. One of the findings was that the CEO had a shoot-the-messenger reputation that was stifling open dialogue on key operational issues.
In sharing some of the open-ended comments from the survey, I put up a slide with a direct quote from one of the anonymous respondents: “I would love to share my ideas with [the CEO], but it’s not safe to speak your mind around here. All he seems to want is a bunch of yes-men.”
Within a nanosecond of reading that comment the CEO slammed his fist on the table and shouted “That’s ridiculous! Find out who said that and usher him out the door! We don’t have room in this organization for people who are too weak-kneed to speak up.” All the other executives sort of cowered in silence at this display of fury. Then I simply said: “I. Rest. My. Case.” After a long pause the CEO smiled, then chuckled, then broke into a hearty laugh.
The elephant in the room (the CEO’s bullying style) had been identified, and now the CEO and his team (and later others) were ready to discuss the undiscussable. They were finally on their way to taming the elephant. And taming that elephant led to identifying and taming others.

We see the elephant-in-the-room in the Church as well.

I, along with many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, notice that there are elephants in the room that no one can talk about.

It's unfortunate because many of these elephants exist because of past mistakes, and these mistakes can be resolved fairly easily be refocusing on the teachings of the prophets instead of the teachings of modern intellectuals.

For example, there is a lot of confusion about Church history and Book of Mormon historicity that people don't feel free to discuss. The recent Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography  expressly prohibits discussing the topic in Church settings.

Treating these issues as elephants in the room doesn't prevent people from thinking about them. It just moves the conversation to other forums, notably the Internet. Web pages such as Mormon Stories and CES Letter thrive by focusing on these elephants in the room.

As long-time readers know, I've addressed some of these topics in my blogs and books. There is more to come.

In the meantime, there is an excellent discussion of the elephant-in-the-room problem here: