Friday, February 16, 2018

Cumorah - 7, why it matters

I'm focusing on the Hill Cumorah because it matters.

A lot.

This Cumorah discussion is not a question of geography as much as it is a question whether we follow the prophets or the intellectuals.

As always, the prophets lead people to a land of clarity. They have consistently and repeatedly taught that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

The intellectuals lead people to a land of confusion and chaos. They have consistently and repeatedly taught that there are two Cumorahs (M2C) but the second one is any number of places around the world, depending on which intellectuals you choose to follow.

The choice is clear.

Each of us can make our own choices, but the intellectuals want you to think the choice of which intellectual you follow doesn't really matter, so long as you choose the intellectuals over the prophets.

I've blogged about why it matters here: Today I have some additional thoughts on the topic.

Remember that the top two reasons Millennials give for leaving the Church are

- “I felt judged or misunderstood.”
- [tied for first] “I did not trust the Church leadership to tell the truth surrounding controversial or historical issues.”

We have Visitors Centers, Institute and Seminary manuals, BYU/CES, and the Church History department all teaching that Cumorah cannot be in New York. These M2C promoters don't even tell students that the prophets and apostles have taught the New York Cumorah consistently for 180 years, including in General Conference. When a student finds out, the M2C intellectuals claim the prophets and apostles were wrong.

It's a double-whammy.

First, through their censorship of Letter VII and the New York Cumorah generally, the M2C intellectuals don't tell the truth about what prior Church leaders have taught, thereby reinforcing the main reason why Millennials leave the Church.

Second, the M2C intellectuals claim the prophets and apostles are wrong, which, if true, leads people to wonder why we have prophets and apostles in the first place. What can possibly be more destructive to faith than having BYU/CES teachers telling students the prophets and apostles are wrong?

The purpose of the Book of Mormon cannot be fully realized if people think it's untrue, or fiction. Preach My Gospel poses this question: "What is the Role of the Book of Mormon?"

The manual then quotes President Ezra Taft Benson in a paragraph titled Foundation of testimony. “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church."

One of the early efforts to disprove the Book of Mormon was the book Mormonism Unvailed which was published near Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834. That book claimed Joseph got the Book of Mormon from a fictional work by Solomon Spaulding.

It was partly in response to this effort to discredit the Book of Mormon that President Cowdery wrote Letter VII, declaring the physical and geographical reality of the Book of Mormon. He said it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. He said Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. President Cowdery and Joseph Smith knew the New York hill was the site of the depository because they had actually visited that depository multiple times.

Now it is the M2C LDS intellectuals who seek to discredit President Cowdery. 

Preach My Gospel declares, "A central purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince all people that Jesus is the Christ." 

The Book of Mormon is convincing because it is an authentic history of ancient people who lived in America. As President Benson said, the Church stands or falls with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

We have BYU/CES teaching students that the "best fit" for the geography described in the text is a fantasy map. That completely undermines the claim that the book is a true history.

We have BYU/CES teaching students that the prophets and apostles are wrong about Cumorah being in New York. That completely undermines the claim that the prophets and apostles teach the truth.

How can the Book of Mormon convince the world that Jesus is the Christ when our own scholars are trying to convince us that the prophets are wrong and the events took place in a fantasy world? 

There is no upside (and no excuse) for choosing the intellectuals over the prophets. The only ones who benefit are the M2C intellectuals who get to confirm their biases all day long while simultaneously acquiring more admirers and followers from their captive audiences at BYU/CES.

As Leo Tolstoy observed,

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others and which they have woven thread by thread into the fabric of their lives."

In The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893), Tolstoy observed, "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him" (ch. 3). Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett, New York, 1894. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cumorah - 6a, What is being taught?

Today I want to look at what is really being taught about Cumorah in our Visitors' Centers, at BYU/CES, in the Joseph Smith Papers, etc.

I don't know of a better description than this: what is being taught about Cumorah are the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

The Book of Mormon itself warns us of this danger.

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not... But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9:28-29).

The entire premise of M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) consists of setting aside the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah, supposing they know of themselves.

The M2C intellectuals think they are wise--wiser than the prophets and apostles. They have persuaded their students for decades that they (the intellectuals) are wise, while the prophets and apostles are naive speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

Now those trusting students themselves have become teachers at BYU/CES, historians, Church employees who set up the displays in the Visitors Centers, etc.

The M2C intellectuals are familiar with 2 Nephi 9:28. They teach it to their students and profess to believe it. They just don't apply it to themselves.

Instead, their confirmation bias is so strong that they honestly believe they are not setting aside the teachings of the prophets because, according to them, the prophets never taught that Cumorah was in New York.

Of course, that's walking in darkness at noon day. Letter VII and all the confirming teachings of the prophets and apostles are as plain as word can be. Yet, the intellectuals are imposing their falsehoods on the entire Church through their journals and publications, the Visitors Centers, the curriculum, the media, etc.

To confirm their M2C bias, they have invented a Church history narrative that not only is unsupported by historical documents and accounts, but outright contradicts them. This imaginary Church history is being taught at the North Visitors Center on Temple Square, as discussed here:

and here:

It's one thing for the Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City to mislead people about what happened far away in New York, but they have replicated this exhibit in the Visitors Center at the Hill Cumorah in New York!
Hill Cumorah Visitors Center, with Moroni on the
right, burying the plates in the New York hill
The thousands of visitors to the Hill Cumorah in New York are taught that the hill is important only because Joseph found the plates there.

Nothing in the Cumorah Visitors Center tells visitors (or missionaries) what the prophets and apostles have taught about that sacred location, apart from Moroni's stone box. Instead, the exhibits and artwork teach M2C. 

Visitors are never taught about Mormon's depository or the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

This display of the "New York hill" (they refuse to call it Cumorah) shows Moroni burying the plates, along with the Liahona and the sword of Laban.

It's absurd on many levels. First, Joseph and Oliver each described the contents of Moroni's stone box in detail: plates, breastplate and interpreters. No one ever said the stone box contained the Liahona and/or the sword of Laban.

This exhibit is pure fiction.

The exhibit is accompanied by a film that actually depicts Moroni putting the Liahona and the sword of Laban into the stone box.

We're supposed to believe that Joseph either (i) carried these objects home, and then to Harmony, and then to Fayette, all without anyone else ever seeing or commenting about them; or (ii) left them in the stone box for several years, where all the people looking for treasure never found them.

Neither scenario is plausible, to say the least.

We all wonder, "Why would Church historians and media employees create this false narrative?"

The answer: M2C.

If the Visitors Center displays depicted the words of the prophets instead of the words of the intellectuals, we'd see Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) and Moroni's stone box in the same hill. This is what Joseph, Oliver, and all of their contemporaries and successors have taught.

It would look something such as this:

Instead, we get the false narrative that missionaries are forced to teach, even when they know it makes no sense. Members are confused. Investigators find it absurd. 

No one actually believes Joseph found the Liahona and the sword of Laban in Moroni's stone box. 


We return to the question, "Why would Church historians and media employees create this false narrative?"

The reason is the interplay between M2C and D&C 17:1, which promised the Three Witnesses this:

Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.

A basic tenet of M2C dogma is that Mormon's depository is the "real Cumorah," somewhere in southern Mexico. But the Three Witnesses testified they saw the plates in New York, near the Whitmer home in Fayette. The M2C intellectuals claim these witnesses also saw the other artifacts when the angel showed them the plates near Fayette. Therefore, the M2C intellectuals claim, the other artifacts had to also be in Moroni's stone box. 

See how convoluted your dogma gets once you reject the prophets and apostles? This is what we get when we mingle the philosophies of men with scripture.

The prophets and apostles have consistently taught that the depository containing the Liahona, the sword of Laban, and other artifacts and plates was in the same hill in New York from which Joseph got the plates. There was no need for Moroni to transfer these items to the stone box.

If we heeded the words of the prophets and apostles, we would never see such a false narrative in our visitors centers, let alone be expected to teach (and believe) such nonsense.

The Three Witnesses testified only about the plates. Joseph told his parents he was relieved because they saw the plates. And yet, the subsequent verses told the witnesses to testify about what they saw:

2 And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.

3 And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;

4 And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.

5 And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them.

Because the Three Witnesses testified only about seeing the plates, are we to infer that they disobeyed the commandment? 

I don't think so.

Notice in verse 1 the "and also" phrase that separates the plates from the other artifacts. It's certainly possible that they saw all these things at the same time and forgot to include them in their formal testimony. Or maybe they were told not to testify of these things after all; i.e., maybe the specific revelation in D&C 17 was superseded by a subsequent, unmentioned and undocumented revelation.

Historians know that David Whitmer later said he, Joseph and Oliver did see all these objects, along with the original plates of brass, the 24 gold plates of Ether, and other plates. This is the account that Church historians and M2C intellectuals rely upon.

Brigham Young and others related accounts by Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith about seeing these objects in Mormon's depository inside the Hill  Cumorah. I think the depository is what David Whitmer was describing; IOW, he saw these objects on a separate occasion from the time when the angel showed him the plates. Of course, it's still possible that he saw all these other objects when he had the Three Witness experience. 

Either way, nothing in any of the accounts supports the idea that Joseph found the Liahona and sword of Laban. That false narrative depicted in the Visitors Centers is purely a fiction contrived to support M2C and repudiate the teachings of the prophets.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cumorah - 6, Education

I'm shortening the title of this series for clarity.

Although we know that facts and logic can't overcome confirmation bias in most cases, I think Cumorah is an exception for most members of the Church.

The M2C intellectuals at BYU/CES/Church history are lost causes at this point. They know about Letter VII and its context, but they have brainwashed themselves into sincerely believing that all the prophets who have spoken about Cumorah were wrong. No facts or logic can change their minds.

But most members of the Church have been lulled into accepting M2C (Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs) out of (i) trust in the intellectuals and (ii) ignorance about what the prophets have taught.

I used to joke that the New York Cumorah was the last secret in Church history, but now it's not a joke. It has become a reality due to the deliberate actions of BYU/CES/Church History department. All references to the New York Cumorah are being systematically removed from Church materials and are being replaced by M2C everywhere.

I just returned from a trip to upstate New York, including the Palmyra area. I can report that the M2C intellectuals have successfully censored President Cowdery's letters almost completely.

Here's one of the most appalling sights I've seen in a while. This is the High Council room in the Palmyra stake center (we had Priesthood meeting here).

This is the stake center across the street from the Palmyra temple.

Remember, this is just a few miles from the Hill Cumorah.

Below is a close up of the white board and the artwork.

Palmyra Stake Center showing Cumorah is
not in New York!
You can see that there was a lesson summarized by "Teachings of Church Leaders."

Then, right next to that, is the fantasy map from the Institute manual!

This is the map that rejects what all the prophets and apostles have said about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Close-up of Institute fantasy map showing
Cumorah is anywhere except in New York
This white board is an incredible juxtaposition of lesson concepts. True, BYU students are all taught this same principle, but to see it on display at the Cumorah stake center was stunning.

M2C is so powerful and pervasive that whomever taught this lesson didn't recognize the deep irony of teaching people (presumably youth) to heed the teachings of Church leaders about everything except when they, the Church leaders, don't agree with the BYU/CES intellectuals.

I blogged about this Institute fantasy map here:

"Jesus Christ Visits the Americas" in the both foyers
of the Palmyra Stake Center
It is bad enough that members of the Church who live near Cumorah in New York are being taught that the "real" Cumorah is in a fantasy land, but they and the thousands of visitors to the area are also being taught M2C blatantly and openly.

Both foyers of the Palmyra Stake center feature the tragic painting of Christ visiting Central America with Chichen Itza in the background.

"Jesus Christ Visits the Americas" in the high council room
of the Palmyra Stake Center
This is the painting that is officially named "Jesus Christ Visits the Americas" but is labeled "Jesus-Nephites" on, which you can see in the url:

This painting is tragic in several respects, as I've discussed before, but because it establishes M2C in the minds of the Saints (and nonmembers), it is ubiquitous.

It is the only painting in the Palmyra Stake Center that is on display in three places.

It is on display in all of the Visitors Centers in the Palmyra/Fayette area.

M2C painting in Grandin Print shop
The Cumorah Visitors Center, built right at the base of the Hill Cumorah, teaches visitors that the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico.

It depicts exclusively Mesoamerican artwork for the setting of the Book of Mormon. The visitors center shows Moroni burying the Liahona and the sword of Laban in the stone box, a NEWSPEAK version of actual Church history.

Thanks to the M2C intellectuals and their followers who work for BYU/CES/Church History department, members of the Church (and visitors and investigators) are not being told what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.

The New York Cumorah is on its way to becoming the best-kept secret in Church history.

Obviously, I think this is a mistake because the only ones who are fooled by M2C are those who either (i) don't have access to the Internet or (ii) don't study for themselves.

Joseph Smith made sure his contemporaries knew about the New York Cumorah by making Letter VII available as much as he could. His successors wanted to make sure this knowledge was never lost by writing about it and speaking about it in General Conference.

Today's M2C intellectuals don't want anyone to even know about Letter VII. They are doing a great job suppressing knowledge about Letter VII and censoring sources that refer to, allude to, or even simply corroborate what President Cowdery taught about the New York Cumorah.

But their efforts are counterproductive, as we'll be seeing in the next few weeks.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - 5e, Curing confirmation bias

Over the last few days, I've shown how psychologically powerful confirmation bias is. Our brains filter the information we encounter, whatever it is, to confirm our biases. In severe cases, we can't even see or understand information that contradicts our biases.

With respect to the location of Cumorah, members of the Church have one of two biases:

(i) They are biased in favor of believing the prophets (who have consistently taught that Cumorah is in New York)


(ii) They are biased in favor of believing the M2C intellectuals (who have consistently taught that the prophets are wrong because Cumorah is in southern Mexico).

[Note: there are a few proponents of other non-New York locations, but the principle is the same. Either you follow the prophets or you follow the intellectuals.]

Does it matter which bias one has?

It might seem self-evident that a bias against believing the prophets is undesirable, at least for active members of the Church. It seems especially problematic to have BYU/CES employees teaching students to disbelieve the prophets. 

These teachers use euphemisms for disbelieving the prophets, such as "The New York Cumorah was only their opinion, and they were wrong," or "They spoke to the best of their understanding at the time, but they were wrong."

That line of reasoning can be used to reject the prophets on whatever topic you want. As we've discussed, M2C is a "gateway drug" toward disbelieving the prophets on other topics.

As pervasive as the M2C bias is, it can be changed. I know, because I once shared that bias, but I changed my bias toward believing the prophets.

For me, there was always a bit of cognitive dissonance with M2C because I had learned when I was young that Cumorah was in New York. I knew it was taught in General Conference, but until the last two years or so, I didn't know about Letter VII and I certainly didn't know it was copied into Joseph's history and republished so many times.

My ignorance left me susceptible to the M2C ideas I learned at BYU as a student, and later as an avid follower of FARMS, BYU Studies, etc. I trusted my professors. I trusted the faithful LDS authors who taught M2C. I've explained before that I reviewed John L. Sorenson's book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon because I had an archaeologist friend who was doing a peer review.

I've met lots of people who have changed their bias from rejecting the prophets to accepting them, but it seems that in the Church today, far more people follow the intellectuals than follow the prophets regarding the Hill Cumorah. This is understandable given the preference given to M2C material in Church media, art, visitors centers, and, of course, at BYU/CES.

Some people are uncomfortable with my criticism of BYU/CES. Let me put it this way. I'm not critical of any individuals, all of whom are wonderful, good, well-intentioned, etc. What I criticize is the continued teaching that the prophets were wrong, which appears in the fantasy maps taught at BYU and the Institute manual.

So how do we "cure" confirmation bias?

Researchers have shown that knowing confirmation bias exists does not cure it. We also know that more information does not cure confirmation bias because our minds interpret every bit of information so as to confirm our biases (often by dismissing as false, wrong, or illogical any contradictory bits of information--which is how M2C advocates characterize the teachings of the prophets).

I won't take the time to go through a detailed strategy today, but here are some of the ways the M2C bias has been cured in the past.

1. Read Letter VII. Ask yourself, why did Joseph Smith have this copied into his history and have it republished so many times? Why would President Cowdery deceive the Church by claiming it was a fact that the final battles took place west of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and that Mormon's depository was in that same hill? A few months later, the Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110). Letter VII continued to be taught and published afterward.

2. Read the accounts of Mormon's depository. Ask yourself, why did Brigham Young think this was so important that he spelled it out just two months before he died? Why did he fear it would otherwise be forgotten by members of the Church? And if Brigham Young was correct, this means Joseph and Oliver spoke from personal knowledge when they wrote Letter VII.

3. Consider the number of people you have to disbelieve to maintain your M2C bias. These include Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, the Pratt brothers, Anthony Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, James E. Talmage, LeGrand Richards, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Petersen, and Gordon B. Hinckley. Do you really believe all of these prophets misled the members of the Church?

4. Consider the scriptural comments about scholars, professors, and the learned.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - Part 5d, origin of M2C

I discussed the origins of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) in a previous post, which you can read here:

The book that superseded the prophets
In this post, I will briefly discuss the book that established M2C. It was this book that persuaded LDS intellectuals to reject the prophets' teachings on the New York Cumorah.

The book was originally published in 1981, about the time when Church employees began shifting their bias away from accepting the prophets and towards accepting the intellectuals instead.

The author, David A. Palmer, also wrote the article on "Cumorah" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which you can read here.

This is the article in which Brother Palmer cites his own book as authority. It's also the article that was plagiarized for the phony fax that FairMormon likes to cite to support M2C, which I discussed here:

I purchased my copy in 1982 when the second printing came out. Like most readers, I found it very persuasive. For decades after reading this book I accepted M2C.

Looking back on it, I see how misleading the book was. I'm sure Brother Palmer had good intentions, but he established the intellectual foundation for rejecting the prophets in favor of the intellectuals. Now that foundation has grown into a large, spacious building into which our BYU/CES teachers invite their students. If that sounds harsh, look at what the book teaches.

The first chapter is titled "Why Search for Cumorah?" It opens with this sidebar quotation:

"It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon. Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one..."

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 23, p. 927

Remember when I explained how the current M2C intellectuals say their theory does not depend on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles? Here we have the most influential book about M2C quoting those articles and ascribing them directly to Joseph Smith!

As we'll see, Brother Palmer's entire theory is based on his assumption that Joseph wrote these articles. Some people still believe that because it confirms their biases, but there is really no chance that Joseph had the time or inclination to read, extract, and comment on the Stephens books, as I've discussed at length before.

(BTW, the Church History Department still promotes this false narrative about Joseph Smith and the Times and Seasons because they are colluding with the M2C scholars to keep M2C alive. You see it in the notes in the Joseph Smith Papers and in the upcoming new Church History book to be released later this year.)

At the bottom of page 17, Brother Palmer sets out his thesis:

"This book presents the theory that there are two Cumorahs. The original Cumorah, which relates to Book of Mormon history, will be called "Mormon's Cumorah" because Mormon hid there the large Nephite record library. A location for Mormon's Cumorah in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is proposed and will be defended. The hill in New York State will be called "Moroni's Cumorah," since Moroni placed a small set of plates there for eventual delivery to Joseph Smith."

Two Cumorahs on display at Temple Square, SLC
Now you understand why Church employees developed this exhibit depicting the M2C in the North Visitors' Center on Temple Square.

In my graphic, I characterize "Mormon's Cumorah" as the "real Cumorah" because that's how M2C explains it; i.e., according to M2C, the idea that the "New York hill" is "Cumorah" is a false tradition.

The Visitors' Center makes sure people know Mormon's depository is in Mexico by covering the walls with Mayan glyphs.

The exhibit designers put Moroni off in the distance at the "New York hill" to make sure that visitors realize that the prophets are wrong and the intellectuals are correct. And, as we've seen previously, they depict Moroni burying the Liahona and the sword of Laban in the stone box, contrary to all historical evidence, lest some unsuspecting member of the Church (or investigator) happen to wonder about D&C 17.

The last thing Church employees want is for members (and investigators) to learn about Letter VII and all the prophets and apostles who have affirmed it.

And really, this is all thanks to Brother Palmer's book.

On this page, we have some more explanation of M2C.

"The text of the Book of Mormon will be examined and used to develop sets of criteria by which the validity of the two-Cumorah theory can be judged. Also, thirteen geographical and fifteen archaeological-cultural criteria will be presented. It will be shown that the proposed hill in Mexico meets these criteria. By contrast, it will be shown that the hill in New York meets only a few of the screening criteria."

This statement is another wonderful expression of confirmation bias. The circular reasoning is obvious to everyone except maybe Brother Palmer. Here's how it works.

Step 1: Decide that Cumorah is in Mexico.
Step 2: Interpret the text to create criteria that describe the Mexican Cumorah
Step 3: Apply these criteria to prove the Mexican Cumorah
Step 4: Apply these criteria to exclude the New York Cumorah 

The logical fallacy is so transparent I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell for it for decades, but that's the power of confirmation bias. I wanted to believe my BYU professors to the point that circular reasoning was persuasive to me.

We'll look at the "criteria" later because I want to examine the second paragraph I highlighted on this page. My comments in red.

"The impact of placing Mormon's Cumorah in the State of New York is to grossly distort the geography of the Book of Mormon. The distortion is the result of Brother Palmer's assumption about the Mesoamerican setting, but he takes that setting as a given. Certainly the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah did not view it as a distortion. 

Doing this makes it impossible to reconcile the internal geography of the Book of Mormon with actual maps. There are dozens of "actual maps" that depict Cumorah in New York. 

Without a valid geography of the Book of Mormon there cannot be any serious studies of the correlation between archaeology and the Book of Mormon. The validity of a geography theory is in the eye of the creator. The "correlation" approach is pure confirmation bias anyway; it is so illusory that there are "correlations" between the text and every human society throughout time everywhere in the world. 

In fact, the traditional view that there is just one Cumorah has proved a stumbling block to development and publication of serious contributions to Book of Mormon archaeology. Actually, the inverse is true. Once the intellectuals persuaded members that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, M2C became a stumbling block to belief in the prophets and the Book of Mormon itself. Serious contributions based on archaeology remain available with the New York setting.

It appears that there is no scriptural justification for placing Mormon's Cumorah in New York, and there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever said it was there. Joseph's own mother said Joseph called the hill Cumorah even before he obtained the plates because that was what Moroni had called it. True, Moroni didn't name the hill again after he buried the plates; after all, they were buried so he couldn't add to them. But as we've seen, Joseph endorsed Letter VII multiple times, as have his successors. Most important, Joseph, Oliver and others actually visited Mormon's depository in the New York hill, which makes the claim that Joseph never "said it was there" moot.

The location of Mormon's Cumorah is, therefore, an open question which should be approached analytically." This is the self-serving conclusion that all the M2C intellectuals want people to reach. Experts in every profession want people to think their profession is essential. The more the M2C intellectuals persuade people to follow them instead of the prophets, the more power and influence the M2C intellectuals have. It's a natural human tendency to seek power and influence, so we can't blame the intellectuals for pursuing it here. But one reason why we have prophets is to counter this human tendency to rely on our own intellect. Jacob addressed this in 2 Nephi 9: "O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not."

Page 20 has a brief nod to Oliver Cowdery. Let's look at this.

There is no record of Moroni having told Joseph Smith that the place where the abridgement was buried was Cumorah, or that the hill was once a great battleground. I previously mentioned Joseph's mother's account, which Brother Palmer may not have known about.  

If this had been the place of those great final battles, it would be rather surprising that it was not mentioned. The logical fallacy is assuming Moroni did not mention it just because there is no contemporaneous record of Moroni calling it Cumorah before President Cowdery's 1835 letters. There was also no record of John the Baptist and Peter, James and John coming before Oliver's letters. By Brother Palmer's reasoning, those events must not have occurred, either. The reason President Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote these letters was precisely because the history had not been recorded adequately.

We have only the scantiest of inferences that Joseph Smith ever called the hill "Cumorah." (D&C 128:20). D&C 128 was the letter Joseph wrote to the editor of the Times and Seasons for publication in October 1842. The Times and Seasons had re-published Letter VII in April 1841. Because of that re-publication, and Letter VII's appearance in the Millennial Star and the Gospel Reflector (which were available in Nauvoo), everyone who read the Times and Seasons was familiar with the teaching that Cumorah was in New York. Joseph's 1842 reference to Cumorah was in the context of this universal understanding, which every Church leader who ever spoke on the topic affirmed.

However, he does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery, who may have been the one to first name the New York hill "Cumorah." (Cowdery, 1835)" Not only did Joseph "not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery," but Joseph had his scribes copy these letters, including Letter VII, into his own history as part of his life story. He had Letter VII republished multiple times, including by his brothers Don Carlos and William. Instead of informing his readers about these further corroborations, Brother Palmer merely cites the initial publication in the relatively obscure Messenger and Advocate. Perhaps Brother Palmer was merely unaware of how many times Letter VII has been republished and reaffirmed by the prophets, but just three years before his book was published in 1981, Elder Mark E. Petersen declared in General Conference that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. Brother Palmer gives no credence to the prophets, so we wouldn't expect him to mention what they've said, but readers should be aware that he is not providing a complete picture of the controversy. 

In the interest of time and space, I'll conclude with page 21. This is where Brother Palmer uses the anonymous Times and Seasons articles as his justification for following the intellectuals instead of the prophets.

"The prophet Joseph Smith has stated very clearly that the approach to Book of Mormon geography must be primarily of an intellectual nature. In 1842, while serving as editor of the Nauvoo newspaper, "Times and Seasons," he used the paper to educate the people and turn Nauvoo into a cultural center of the west. One of the books which the prophet publicized was a national bestseller written by John Lloyd Stephens (1841)."

Notice again how much Brother Palmer's narrative relies on the mistaken premise that Joseph wrote those anonymous articles. Now Brother Palmer has Joseph stating "very clearly" that the approach "must be primarily of an intellectual nature."

I think by now you can see how self-serving this approach is.

If you're a student at BYU or CES, you see this approach in play every time you take a Book of Mormon class and your teachers show you an abstract map of the Book of Mormon that depicts Cumorah anywhere but New York.

I'll end with Brother Palmer's criteria. These are the same criteria being applied by M2C intellectuals today.

All of them are, at best, interpretations of the text, some of which are so imaginary that they amount to pure speculation designed to qualify Mexico and disqualify New York.

Brother Palmer's #5 says, "in an area of many rivers and waters." But the text says "land of many waters, rivers, and fountains," and "a land among many waters." I discussed the significance of this description here:

Brother Palmer's #12 says, "temperate climate with no cold or snow," which the text does not require.

#13 says, "in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes," but the text never mentions volcanoes.


Summary. Brother Palmer's book laid the foundation for M2C. Subsequent M2C authors have built on that foundation, adding details and variations, but on one point, all the M2C authors and proponents agree: they want members of the Church to reject the prophets and follow the intellectuals.

Each member of the Church needs to decide whether to take their invitation or to follow the prophets instead.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - Part 5c, where bias originates

Yesterday I pointed out that anyone who actually thinks he/she has taken a position on the location of Cumorah based on "the evidence" or on "the text" is living in a delusion.

Psychologists and neuroscientists have shown that information and logic cannot overcome our biases in most cases. Studies have shown that when new information is presented to people who have opposite opinions about a topic, it does not bring the people closer to consensus; instead, it deepens the disagreement because each individual's confirmation bias filter interprets the information to reinforce his/her original bias. I gave an example of this the other day, here.

If we want to understand the Cumorah controversy, we need to understand how our biases originate in the first place.

Regarding the location of Cumorah, everyone has the same faith and testimony, the same access to facts, evidence, the text, and the teachings of the prophets*. We reach different conclusions because our confirmation bias filter determines what evidence and interpretation we accept.

This means that your view on the location of Cumorah depends on which bias you are confirming, and your bias depends entirely on which expert you choose to follow: (i) the prophets or (ii) the intellectuals.

The reason we must choose an expert: there is "evidence" to support every viewpoint, as well as corresponding interpretations of the "text" that we think ratify our choice of expert.

Everyone thinks his/her interpretation is "the best one" or even "the correct one" based on the "evidence." Whenever you see someone make such a claim, you are seeing confirmation bias at work.

Many people don't recognize that confirmation bias has chosen which evidence and interpretation their minds have accepted and why that has happened.

BYU fantasy map
A prime example is the fantasy map currently being taught at BYU/CES, which BYU explains in these terms: "our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible." This statement is one of the best examples of confirmation bias I know of, and betrays a pathologically deep lack of self-awareness.

As the BYU statement demonstrates, confirmation bias blinds people to the reality that people with opposing views all think the their own views are the "best" (or "closest to the text"). No one chooses a belief they know is "wrong" (or "worse" than an alternative), although it may seem that way from the perspective of those who have chosen a different belief.

You might think you are an exception. You have made your decision based on your own study of the facts, your own research, your own interpretation of the text, or even your own prayer and spiritual impressions. Good for you. But if you really think this way, you are merely choosing expert (ii), with yourself as the intellectual.

In my experience, those who accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah openly admit their bias. Their confirmation bias rejects evidence and interpretations that contradict the prophets. I have declared that this is my bias, and I have explained how my bias shifted (tomorrow's topic).

The bias that accepts the prophets leaves plenty of room for study, analysis, debate and prayer, which is why there are many proposed geographies that all put Cumorah in New York. Way back in 1890, President George Q. Cannon observed in the Juvenile Instructor that the First Presidency has never published or approved of a map of Book of Mormon geography because there are so many uncertainties.

From 1880 to his death in 1901, President Cannon served as First Counselor to Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, so he was well qualified to express the views of the First Presidency. He served with Joseph F. Smith, who was Second Counselor from 1880 until he became President of the Church in 1901. Joseph F. Smith was editor of the Improvement Era during this time.

In 1899, nine years after President Cannon published his comment about Book of Mormon geography, President Joseph F. Smith published Letter VII in the Improvement Era. This demonstrates that, from the perspective of the First Presidency, teaching that Cumorah is in New York is consistent with neutrality on the rest of Book of Mormon geography. That position has also been explained by other prophets.

Those who accept the prophets recognize that the Lord has not definitively revealed any geography beyond the New York Cumorah. But that reality is not a justification for rejecting the consistent and persistent teaching that Cumorah is in New York.

What about the bias of those who reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah? (Here I focus on the M2C intellectuals  and their followers (M2C = Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory) because they have the most publications and the most influence on Church members, especially the youth.)

Their situation is more complex.

It seems incredible to many Mormons that confirmation bias can be so powerful psychologically that it causes otherwise faithful, dedicated LDS people to persuade themselves to disbelieve the prophets about the New York Cumorah. But we have to realize that the M2C intellectuals and their followers don't see it that way.

For a long time, the M2C proponents tried to claim that the prophets have been confused about this topic and have therefore taught contradictory ideas about Cumorah. They characterize Letter VII as the product of ignorant speculation on the part of Joseph and Oliver which established a false tradition that misled the Church until around 1980, when the intellectuals discovered Cumorah could not be in New York. (More on that below). They also cite examples such as President Cannon's statement above.

But at no time has any prophet ever taught that Cumorah is anywhere other than in New York. The prophets have taught that Cumorah is in New York consistently and repeatedly from at least 1835 through 1990, without exception.

Faced with these facts, the M2C intellectuals and their followers have adopted an alternative rationale. Because they are faithful members of the Church, they accept the teachings of the prophets on everything--except in this one case, they claim the prophets were merely expressing their private opinions that happened to be wrong. Consequently, they believe that deference to the prophets about the New York Cumorah is unnecessary.

This "mere opinion" justification allows them to avoid the cognitive dissonance they would otherwise experience; i.e., they consider their position perfectly consistent with their faith in the prophets on other topics.

However, at some level, the M2C intellectuals and their followers realize that their justification is problematic. They know their "mere opinion" justification is the same argument made by other members who disbelieve the prophets on other topics. Some Mormons think modern science shows a little wine or coffee is good for the body, so there's no need to follow the prophets' "opinion" regarding the Word of Wisdom. Some disregard the prophets' "opinions" on issues such as sexual morality because modern psychology teaches that pre-marital sex is healthy. And so on.

This is why I have labeled the M2C theory a "gateway drug" for disregarding the prophets on other issues--especially when it is actively taught at BYU/CES and by the Church History Department.

Recognizing this disastrous result, the M2C proponents have developed a slight variation. This is the idea that past prophets were not really expressing their opinions, but they spoke from (and bore testimony of) their "best understanding" of the facts at the time. Now, according to this theory, we have more knowledge, so we can see that their teachings, however honorable and sincere, were mistaken.

You undoubtedly realize this is really no different from the "opinion" justification--anyone can cite "facts" that were "unknown" to prior prophets and thereby ignore what the prophets have taught--but this framing is gaining currency, especially at the Church History Department.

Because the bias of those who choose expert (i) (i.e., the prophets) is so clear and straightforward, I don't see a need to examine it further.

But because the bias of those who choose expert (ii) (i.e., the intellectuals) is so complex, I'll spend the rest of this post examining this question:

What created the anti-New York Cumorah bias that has caused so many LDS intellectuals at BYU/CES and staff at Church headquarters to reject what the prophets have so consistently and explicitly taught about this topic?

I don't have to explain why rejecting the prophets is problematic, even with the rationalization that they were merely expressing their opinions or were speaking from their "best understanding at the time." By definition, believing members believe what the prophets teach.

For otherwise faithful members to reject the prophets must require some overwhelming, indisputable evidence that the prophets were wrong.** Their error can then be attributed to personal opinions, to the best of their knowledge at the time, or, ideally, to superseding revelation.

So far, no prophet has announced a superseding revelation.

The "personal opinion" exception swallows the rule that we should follow the prophets; i.e., there is no principled basis (other than one's own confirmation bias) for choosing which of the prophets' consistent teachings are "true" vs "opinion."

That leaves us with the "best understanding at the time" exception.

The origin of M2C is a series of anonymous articles in the September and October 1842 Times and Seasons. These articles don't discuss Cumorah, but they make the claim that the Nephites lived in Central America and that Zarahemla itself was in Guatemala.

I've written three detailed books on this topic and written plenty of blog posts that engage the M2C intellectuals about it. My interest was sparked by an article about what I consider to be a phony stylometry analysis that purported to prove Joseph Smith wrote or edited these anonymous articles. If you're interested in the details, you can read the books or the blogs, such as here:

The bottom line: I don't think Joseph Smith had anything to do with these articles, either as author or editor. Instead, in my opinion (confirming my bias) they were written by Benjamin Winchester and edited and published by William Smith, probably with the assistance of W.W. Phelps. IOW, the foundation of the M2C theory is a mistaken attribution of anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons.

If you don't know who Benjamin Winchester was, you can read my books (starting with The Lost City of Zarahemla). I can summarize the whole scenario by noting that Joseph Smith said Winchester was rotten at heart and would injure the Church as much as he could.

Think: what could injure the Church more than having BYU/CES teach the youth of the Church that the best explanation for the Book of Mormon is it took place in a fantasy world? And yet, that is exactly what is happening because of these anonymous articles.

Since I published the books and blogs, some of the M2C intellectuals have claimed their theory has nothing to do with those anonymous articles. Naturally, their confirmation bias would lead them to make that claim because even they recognize the evidence leads to Winchester/William Smith and away from Joseph Smith. But the historical record refutes their revisionism.

Although the anonymous articles said nothing about Cumorah, they do place the Nephites in Central America (Mesoamerica). Because they assumed Joseph Smith wrote, edited, or approved of these articles, the M2C intellectuals began to vindicate what they thought Joseph had taught.

They sought and found "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text. Then they began interpreting the text to make a better fit with the "correspondences." Plus, they cited the expressly speculative statements of the Pratt brothers and other early Church leaders, all of whom also expressly taught the New York Cumorah as a fact.

The M2C intellectuals eventually concluded that New York is too far from Mesoamerica to fit their interpretation of the text. But with all their intellectual investment in finding Mesoamerican correspondences, they confirmed their bias by rejecting the New York Cumorah.

Thus began the rationalizations for rejecting the prophets.

This is how faithful LDS acquire a bias to choose (ii) (the intellectuals) over (i) (the prophets).

I realize that explanation is unsatisfactory to believing members of the Church who accept the prophets. They still can't understand how the M2C intellectuals rationalize their rejection of the prophets.

Here's a key element I didn't mention yet.

The M2C intellectuals not only thought Joseph Smith wrote the anonymous editorials, but they interpret those same editorials as Joseph's deference to scholars to solve the problem of Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

IOW, they persuaded themselves that Joseph himself had decided that only intellectuals can discover the truth, so they rationalized that Joseph himself rejected the New York Cumorah (or would have, had he thought about it as much as they have).

To anyone who does not share the M2C bias, this reasoning appears circular and self-serving. What can be more self-serving than taking the position that the prophets themselves rely on the intellectuals to discover the truth?

And yet, that is exactly what the M2C intellectuals and their followers believe. I've actually had some of them tell me I should believe them instead of the prophets because whenever the Brethren have a question, they call the intellectuals for the answers.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether that is the case. 

But certainly, as I've shown, the staff at Church headquarters are following the lead of the BYU/CES intellectuals because they embrace M2C and reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

Fortunately, a course correction is always possible. Maybe some day, instead of showing these abstract maps with Cumorah in a fantasy land, they'll show Cumorah in New York.

Tomorrow we'll consider whether it is possible to change one's bias and how it can be done.

I'll supplement this post with details about the foundation of M2C. I'd put it here but this post is already too long.



*In this post, I use the term "prophet" to include LDS Apostles, who are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators.

**The New York Cumorah is not a one-time "fallibility" argument  like the "Adam-God" theory, the priesthood ban, or even polygamy. We have 170 years of explicit, continuous, repeated teaching that Cumorah is in New York. These are not isolated statements by one or two prophets in the distant past. The New York Cumorah originated with President Cowdery of the First Presidency with Joseph Smith's assistance and approval. It was unambiguously spelled out and declared as a fact. It was repeatedly republished in official Church publications and consistently taught for 170 years by many prophets including in General Conference.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - Part 5b, unique treatment of Cumorah in New York

It is fascinating to observe how the psychological power of confirmation bias has led people to form strong opinions on the topic of Book of Mormon geography. Anyone who thinks he/she has taken a position based on "the evidence" or on "the text" is living in a delusion.

Everyone involved in this discussion has the same faith and testimony.

Everyone is reading the same text.

Everyone has access to the same physical and scientific evidence.

Everyone has access to the same teachings of the prophets.

Yet people reach completely contradictory conclusions. Why?

The truth is, we are all interpreting "the evidence" and "the text" through filters that confirm our biases. And our bias is driven by whether we accept (i) the prophets who teach a New York Cumorah or (ii) the intellectuals who teach a non-New York Cumorah. 

Everything else is confirmation bias. 

Our psychology is such that, once we make the choice about which expert to follow, we automatically reject the other category of expert.

We defer to experts (prophets or intellectuals, respectively) precisely because there is physical and scientific evidence to support both positions. Both positions rely on subjective interpretations of the text that confirm our respective biases, which in turn are determined by our initial choice of which expert we follow.

Those who accept the prophets reject the intellectuals who contradict the prophets, while those who accept the intellectuals reject the prophets who contradict the intellectuals. It's axiomatic. It's an irresistible psychological reality.

The fun comes when those who accept the intellectuals, and yet also claim they want to follow the prophets (such as BYU/CES employees teaching Book of Mormon or Church History classes), try to rationalize their choice by claiming the prophets haven't actually taught the things they have declared. They stare at the words and deny they are there--the power of confirmation bias.

Tomorrow we'll assess the origin of these powerful biases. Friday I'll offer some suggestions for cognitive debiasing. Next week we'll look at more of the physical and scientific aspects of the Hill Cumorah.

But today I want to point out how, because of confirmation bias , the New York Cumorah has been treated uniquely among all the other teachings of the prophets and apostles. 

Before getting started with examples, I need to explain my purpose here.

Psychological studies have shown that information rarely, if ever, overcomes bias confirmation. People always interpret new information so that if it confirms their bias, they accept it, but if it contradicts their bias, they reject it as unreliable or otherwise flawed.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York, evidence regarding other theories will have no impact on your beliefs. You will dismiss it out of hand because it contradicts the experts you've chosen (the prophets). Because of your confirmation bias, the information in this post will make you even more perplexed at the rejection of the prophets and apostles by faithful members of the Church.

Because your bias is based on the words of the prophets, however, if, say, President Nelson came out today and declared that the Hill Cumorah is somewhere else, accepting that teaching would be consistent with your bias, even if it conflicted with your previous beliefs about Cumorah. You might have to work out the inconsistencies between past and present prophets, but your bias in favor of accepting the prophets would lead you to accept the new teaching. You would suddenly see the evidence differently to confirm your stronger bias of following the prophet.

Likewise, if you think the Hill Cumorah is not in New York--if you accept the M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs) theory or another non-New York theory--none of the information in this post will change your mind. You have already accepted the proposition that the prophets and apostles were wrong, so no matter how many times they repeated the teaching and no matter the purpose or context, you are convinced they are wrong and bias confirmation will make sure any new data fits the M2C paradigm.

Because of the psychology of bias confirmation, there is literally nothing any Church leader can say that will change your mind on this topic. Even if President Nelson came out today and read Letter VII and said he stands by it, your bias confirmation would have you believe that was just his opinion and he was wrong because you've already interpreted past statements by the prophets and apostles that way.

The corollary, of course, is that because your bias is based on teachings of intellectuals you respect, if those same intellectuals began teaching a New York Cumorah, it would be consistent with your bias to adopt that view, even though it contradicted your past beliefs. You would suddenly see the evidence differently to confirm your stronger bias of following the intellectuals you respect.

Bottom line: I'm offering this information not to convince anyone of anything, but to (i) show the power of bias confirmation and (ii) illustrate how deeply bias confirmation has seeped into the Church.

Let me re-emphasize that last point.

Bias confirmation on the part of Church employees has always led to decisions about curriculum, media, artwork, visitors' center displays, etc., that confirm their bias. Until about 1980, the bias was in favor of the prophets and opposed to the intellectuals. Since about 1980, that bias has been in favor of the intellectuals and opposed to the prophets.

The question for today is which bias will prevail in the future.

Let's look at three examples of how confirmation bias operates to treat the teaching (doctrine) of the New York Cumorah uniquely.

1. Official Mormon Doctrine. The Church has published guidelines so people can know what is and what is not official Church doctrine. See

The New York Cumorah seems to fit the criteria, as I've explained in these posts:

As far as I have discovered, and as far as anyone else has told me, the New York Cumorah is the only teaching that (i) meets these criteria, yet (ii) people nevertheless deny is Church doctrine.

Some people say the location of Cumorah is not a doctrinal issue because locations are not doctrinal in nature. "Doctrine" is defined as "a set of beliefs. The word comes from the Latin doctor for “teacher,” so think of a doctrine is the teachings of a school, religion, or political group." By that definition, locations of sacred events are doctrines when they are what a religion teaches.

Would we say the location of the Sacred Grove is not Church doctrine? If it is not doctrine, why do we have a Visitors' Center in Palmyra? Unquestionably, the Church teaches that the First Vision took place there, so it is a teaching--a doctrine--of the Church.

It's certainly true that, as the Mormon Newsroom points out, "Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice." The example given there is extreme to make the point clear, but what about closer cases?

For example, could we say that it doesn't matter whether the First Vision took place near Palmyra or somewhere else?

I think not. The reason: it goes to the credibility of Joseph Smith, the only witness to the event. He said it happened in what we now know was the Sacred Grove. If someone produces evidence that it actually occurred in Pennsylvania, that might not change the reality of the visitation, but it would raise a serious issue about the credibility of Joseph Smith that would carry over to other things he claimed.

Another point about the relative importance of doctrines is how often they are taught, and for what purposes. Letter VII was written partly in response to the claim in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction. President Cowdery emphasized the physical reality of the Book of Mormon by stating it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the New York hill where Joseph found the plates. The teaching served a very important purpose then, and it continues to do so today. That's why it was repeated so often.

It is indisputable that for over 150 years, leaders of the Church have consistently and specifically taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the same hill in Western New York from which Joseph Smith obtained the set of plates that he translated in Harmony, PA. This was no isolated statement; it was proclaimed openly in General Conference by members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It was published repeatedly in official Church publications. It has never been contradicted by any member of the Twelve or First Presidency.

The only ones who oppose this teaching are certain intellectuals in the Church and their followers.

I know of no other such teaching that has been so often repeated by Church leaders yet is openly repudiated by LDS scholars and Church staff.  I'd like to know if anyone can think of another one.

Some may say the New York Cumorah is an unimportant doctrine.

We've already seen why President Cowdery formally published Letter VII. We've seen how many times the teaching was repeated. Now let's look at one example of how important previous prophets and apostles have considered the teaching.

In October 1975, President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency spoke in General Conference on the topic of "America's Destiny." Present at the time were President Spencer W. Kimball and Elders (and future Presidents) Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson.

President Romney said this:

I will give you a lesson today that the Lord has taken great pains to bring to us.... In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.... Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation, of whom the Lord had said, “There shall be none greater … upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43.)

As I contemplated this tragic scene from the crest of Cumorah and viewed the beautiful land of the Restoration as it appears today, I cried in my soul, “How could it have happened?”... This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites, flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites’.... I bear you my personal witness that I know that the things I have presented to you today are true—both those pertaining to past events and those pertaining to events yet to come.

The language here is unambiguous. Can anyone say President Romney did not think his teaching was important? He bore his personal witness that the things he told about past events were true. And yet, confirmation bias is so strong among the M2C intellectuals that they have convinced themselves and their followers that President Romney did not say what he said; instead, he was merely expressing his personal opinion and that he was wrong.

Because of confirmation bias, they honestly believe that 5 Presidents of the Church sat there and listened to false doctrine being preached without saying anything.

In fact, far from opposing President Romney's teaching, 15 years later President Hinckley himself personally approved of a letter that stated, “The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.”

As I indicated at the outset, if you believe Cumorah is not in New York, none of this will change your bias one iota because you've chosen the intellectuals as your experts, not the prophets. But if you believe Cumorah is in New York, than all of this strongly confirms your bias.

2. Brigham  Young. As the second President of the Church, Brigham Young has been enormously influential--and controversial, both inside and outside the Church. But as far as I've been able to discover, and as far as anyone else has explained, there is only one time he described a historical incident about which people say he was either lying, mistaken, or describing a vision.

Of course, I'm referring to his observations about Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

This is a core issue because if President Young was telling the truth about what he knew, then Oliver Cowdery and at least Don Carlos bore witness to him that they and others had actually entered Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. This means that when President Cowdery wrote Letter VII, he was speaking from personal experience, not from speculation, rumor, or even revelation. I've discussed this several times, including here:

Knowing this, the M2C intellectuals claim that Brigham was merely describing a vision that Oliver had of a hill in southern Mexico. This alleged vision was shared with Joseph on multiple occasions. During this alleged vision, Joseph and Oliver returned the plates to the cave and saw the other plates and artifacts. Don Carlos and others either shared the same vision or were a witness to Oliver and Joseph having the vision.

The detailed account is here:

When you read the account, ask yourself, was Brigham Young relating a vision or an actual experience? Note these statements:

I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country.

Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates.

Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room.

They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. 

I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it just as well as we understand coming to this meeting, enjoying the day, and by and by we separate and go away, forgetting most of what is said, but remembering some things. 

I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost. Carlos Smith was a young man of as much veracity as any young man we had, and he was a witness to these things.

Normally, a historian would be thrilled with such testimony. Here is a President of the Church, nearing the end of his life (he would die 2 months later), relating an event he thought was so important that he didn't want the Church to forget about it. He cited specifics. He named other witnesses. The event corroborated not only Letter VII but the teachings of all the other prophets and apostles who had also claimed that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

Those who choose to follow the prophets readily accept this account. It passes right through their confirmation bias filter.

Even those who choose to follow the intellectuals would normally accept Brigham Young's statements about historical events, but this one presents a problem. It contradicts their bias about the New York Cumorah. To accept this statement as an accurate account of an actual event would obliterate their belief that Cumorah cannot be in New York, but worse, it would destroy the credibility of their chosen expert, the intellectuals who teach M2C.

Therefore, once again, the Prophet cannot be correct.

Confirmation bias requires them to interpret President Young's account as something other than literal.

Inferring that President Young was describing a dream here is pretty much impossible. We have Oliver, Joseph, and at least Don Carlos as participants.

We can tell ourselves that maybe Mormon's depository was magically transported to New York for Joseph, Oliver, Don Carlos and others to experience. Or we could tell ourselves that these brethren were magically transported to southern Mexico to have these experiences.

To an outside observer, no matter which of these alternatives we choose, we're straining. Our confirmation bias is at full strength, but even then, the magical thinking causes more problems than it solves.

So we tell ourselves that Brigham Young was wrong, or that Oliver and Don Carlos lied about what happened; i.e., it was completely made up or it was merely a vision or dream.

Even though we accept the intellectuals over the prophets, we don't want to base our position on the premise that the prophets are liars. We can't say Brigham Young was expressing a false opinion here, either; he was simply relating what others told him.

So the only solution is to frame this as a dream, as improbable as that is.

Fortunately, we have other accounts (about 10 of them). Unfortunately, they all speak in literal terms the way President Young did.

But we can turn to Heber C. Kimball's separate account and focus on a single term he used.

When he was discussing the handcart pioneers, Kimball said, "How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments."

On another occasion, Brigham Young noted that "President [Heber C.] Kimball talked familiarly
to the brethren about Father Smith, [Oliver] Cowdery, and others walking into the hill Cumorah and seeing records upon records piled upon table[s,] they walked from cell to cell and saw the records that were piled up. . . ."

That account sounds literal, but it doesn't matter. Our confirmation bias has seized on that term "vision" and that's the only thing that matters. Everything in every one of these accounts must be interpreted as a vision.

Someone who doesn't share our bias may point out that the term "vision" is a synonym for "view," but that, too, doesn't matter. Our bias will not allow this account of walking into Mormon's depository on the Hill Cumorah to be true, so our minds will latch onto one connotation of one term and dismiss everything else.

And it doesn't matter that this interpretation of Brigham Young's statement is unique to this account because it involves the New York Cumorah.

3. Oliver Cowdery. In a previous post, I pointed out that most LDS agree that Oliver Cowdery, as one of the 3 Witnesses, was truthful.

Those with the M2C bias, however, cannot accept what he wrote in Letter VII. Consequently, they have to tell themselves that on this unique topic, he was lying or mistaken. I demonstrated their confirmation bias with a table that shows how they accept everything except this one teachings.

Oliver was truthful about everything except...

Letter VII from Messenger and Advocate, July 1835
Those who reject Letter VII cite no reasons other than their preference for a different location for the Hill Cumorah.

It is interesting to take a look at Oliver Cowdery's participation in the Church to put Letter VII in context. When he wrote it, he was the Assistant President of the Church. He had been commanded by revelation to select materials to publish. All eight of Oliver's letters about history are accepted by Church historians as important insights into the early events of the Church.

The only ones who object to any of Oliver's writings are the Mesoamerican advocates who reject just a few paragraphs out of one of the eight letters.

Oliver published Letter VII in July 1835. In February 1835, he, as one of the Three Witnesses, had selected the first members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He gave them their aspostolic charge. In April 1836, he, along with Joseph Smith, was visited in the Kirtland temple by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior Himself. Oliver and Joseph were given the keys of the gathering of Israel and the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham.

Mesoamerican advocates expect you to believe that Oliver Cowdery could faithfully record the entire Book of Mormon, most of the Book of Moses, and much of Church history. Oliver could faithfully edit and publish two Church newspapers, the Book of Commandments, and the original Doctrine and Covenants. He could accurately write the statement for the Three Witnesses. Of all the writing he did, you're supposed to believe he was faithful and accurate except for a few paragraphs in one letter, solely because those paragraphs contradict the opinions of the scholars.

Here is the chronology. Everything that is okay is marked green. The items the scholars object to is marked red.


1829 April
Transcribes Book of Mormon as Joseph dictates

1829 May
Receives Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, baptizes Joseph and is baptized by him

1829 May
Receives Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James and John

1829 June
Sees the plates and angel as one of the Three Witnesses

1829 June
Completes Book of Mormon and makes a printer’s copy, supervises printing and publication

1830 April
Helps organize the Church as a Second Elder and apostle, ordains Joseph Smith as First Elder

1830 June
Transcribes Book of Moses 1:1 through 5:43

1830 Oct.
Leaves on mission to the Lamanites

1830 Nov.
Baptizes Sidney Rigdon

1831 Jan.
Arrives in Jackson County, Mo.

1831 Summer
Meets Joseph in Jackson County

1831 Nov.
Takes revelations from Ohio to Missouri for publication

Helps Phelps with printing operation in Missouri

1832 Apr.
Approves Book of Commandments

1833 Nov.
Sets up printing press in Kirtland, reprints Evening and Morning Star

1833 Dec.
Begins editing Evening and Morning Star

1834 Feb.
Chosen as founding member of Kirtland Council

1834 May-Aug.
Leader in Kirtland after Zions Camp left

1834 Oct
Edits LDS Messenger and Advocate and Northern Times

1834 Oct
Publishes Letter I about Church history, part of which is in the current Pearl of Great Price

1834 Nov
Publishes Letter II about Church history

1834 Dec
Publishes Letter III about Church history

1834 Dec
Ordained by Joseph Smith as “Assistant President of the Church”

Publishes Letter IV about Church history

1835 Feb
With David Whitmer and Martin Harris, selects first members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

1835 Feb
Gives apostolic charge to the Twelve Apostles

1835 Mar
Publishes Letter V about Church history

1835 Apr
Publishes Letter VI about Church history

1835 May
Resigns from Messenger and Advocate

1835 July
Publishes Letter VII about Church history

1835 Aug.
Gets Doctrine and Covenants approved for printing

1835 Oct.
Publishes Letter VIII about Church history

1836 Mar.
Resumes editing the Messenger and Advocate

1836 Apr.
Visited in Kirtland temple by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and Christ, receives the keys of the gathering of Israel and dispensation of gospel of Abraham

1836 July
Accompanies Joseph to Salem, MA

1837 Feb.
Turns over printing company to Joseph and Sidney

1838 July
“Excluded from fellowship” for accusations against Joseph

1848 Nov.
Rebaptized into the Church

1850 March
Dies in Richmond at home of David Whitmer