Monday, April 23, 2018

Ministering and Cumorah

The new emphasis on ministering is awesome. But there is a very serious problem going on that nobody wants to discuss. It has to do with ministering and the Book of Mormon, and the problem has developed because we've veered off the course that Joseph and Oliver established long ago.

LDS scholars have repudiated the prophets, many Church employees have followed their lead, and until we as a people decide to reject the scholars and embrace the prophets, this problem is only going to get worse.

Almost 40 years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson said, "The Book of Mormon is the instrument that God designed to “sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out [His] elect.” (Moses 7:62.) This sacred volume of scripture needs to become more central in our preaching, our teaching, and our missionary work."

October 1988 General Conference, "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,"

He went on to say,

The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of the electronic media and the mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way.

It's fair to say that the Church has done more to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon over the last 40 years. There are over 160 million copies in print, and essentially infinite numbers of electronic versions. Verses have been posted on social media billions of times.

And yet, what are the results? Not what President Benson anticipated. According to the statistics,

LDS membership growth rates have decelerated to their lowest levels since 1937 at a mere 1.48% during 2017... The number of convert baptisms in 2017 was the lowest reported by the Church since 1987 when there were 227,000 converts baptized.

Why would flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon lead to declining baptisms? Why are most baptisms in areas where people don't speak English and have little access to the Internet?

Because certain LDS intellectuals have repudiated the prophets, and employees in Church departments follow the intellectuals instead of the prophets regarding a key, fundamental point about the Book of Mormon.

Early Church leaders knew the importance of physical evidence as proof of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. During Zion's camp, Joseph Smith  recounted "the history of the Book of Mormon" while passing through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, which he said were "the plains of the Nephites." He described "roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity."

On another occasion, President Cowdery responded to reports that the Latter-day Saints disbelieved the Bible. He wrote, "We believe that sacred record from the evidence we have of its divine authenticity, and because we believe it a consistent book, when taken in its true meaning." (Messenger and Advocate, October 1836, p. 385).

Evidence to support the divine authenticity of the Bible was just as important as evidence to support the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph thought "proof of its divine authenticity" was important during his lifetime, so why would it not be important now?

The answer, of course, is that it is even more important now than ever before.

Apart from Joseph's teachings during Zion's camp, what else did Joseph and Oliver teach about physical evidence?

They taught that the hill Cumorah was in New York.This means the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, Mormon's depository of Nephite records, and Moroni's stone box containing the abridgment of those records.

Certain LDS scholars have rejected the New York Cumorah. Thanks to their efforts, students at BYU and CES, along with Church employees in various Church departments, also reject the New York Cumorah. 

How can a sincere, knowledgeable investigator take the Book of Mormon seriously when LDS intellectuals and employees throughout Church departments teach that our own prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah? 

These LDS intellectuals and employees promote a Mesoamerican setting that claims there are actually two Cumorahs: a false one in New York, and a real one in southern Mexico. To repudiate the prophets, these intellectuals cite illusory "correspondences" between Mayan culture and their strained interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon.

Meanwhile, there is abundant evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. The text itself describes North America. The archaeology, geology and anthropology support what the text and the prophets teach. 

More and more, potential investigators (and many Church members, especially the youth) are saying, "Get your act together on the Book of Mormon first if you want us to take the book seriously."

Once we do this--once we return to the course long established by the prophets about the New York Cumorah--that unity will generate new energy and power as we minister to members and nonmembers. 

Then President Benson's vision will be fulfilled.
We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need. The time is now!

My beloved brothers and sisters, we hardly fathom the power of the Book of Mormon, nor the divine role it must play, nor the extent to which it must be moved.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fairly Mormon

Among the M2C citation cartel, one organization stands out.

It's called FairMormon, formerly known as the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR). You can see their web page here:

I call them Fairly Mormon because while they offer helpful resources and commentary on many LDS issues, they are actively trying to persuade members of the Church to disbelieve the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

It's really a shame because Fairly Mormon's web site has a lot of great resources. If they weren't adamant about forcing M2C onto members of the Church (and investigators) they would provide an invaluable resource. But because of their Mesomania, they refuse to follow the Church's policy on neutrality and reject any presentation of materials that contradict their M2C advocacy.

If you want to observe a who's-who of M2C advocates, Fairly Mormon is having a conference in August. Details here:

They aren't the most influential group. Certainly CES, BYU, and COB departments are more influential overall. Last time I checked, at least Fairly Mormon wasn't pushing a fantasy map of the Book of Mormon, or developing M2C displays in the Visitors Centers.

But Fairly Mormon uses a combination of techniques that makes them especially dangerous.

To review, here are the five standard techniques used by all the M2C intellectuals:

1. Suppressing and censoring the words of the prophets.

2. Using sophistry to teach that the prophets are wrong.

3. Causing confusion by conflating separate and distinct teachings of the prophets.

4. Imprinting the M2C theory on the minds of vulnerable students and missionaries (and investigators) through media, artwork, displays, and academic publications.

5. Dressing the new idea (M2C) in old habits to make it easier to accept.

To this list, Fairly Mormon adds these techniques:

1. Using anonymous articles. Fairly Mormon makes lots of statements that sound authoritative because they are anonymous; i.e., an anonymous article doesn't have the "taint" of a particular author's ownership. This is the same technique William Smith used when he published anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that were written by Benjamin Winchester and edited by William and W.W. Phelps.

I've discussed Fairly Mormon several times on this blog. Just go to the search box and type in "FairMormon" and you'll get lots of blog posts.

Here's one of the best examples of Fairly Mormon's tactics:

I have an assessment of that one on my peer reviews page, here:

2. Exercising strict editorial control. This is related to technique #1 above, but it expands on that by claiming their "answers" are "faithful" and thereby implying that those who disagree with them are not faithful. Fairly Mormon uses sophistry to attack the views of those members of the Church who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

Fairly Mormon will never compare M2C to the Heartland because they know most members of the Church would never accept M2C if they knew what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, along with the archaeological, anthropological, geological and other extrinsic evidence.

All this is to say that we have to be extremely cautious when we use (or refer people to) Fairly Mormon.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why M2C intellectuals persist

People who still believe the teachings of the prophets that Cumorah is in New York often ask, why do the M2C intellectuals continue to oppose the teachings of the prophets?

While there is no one answer, these factors play a role.

1. The M2C intellectuals think the evidence disproves New York and proves Mesoamerica (archaeology, anthropology, geology, etc.).

2. The M2C intellectuals think the prophets were merely expressing their opinions, so it's okay to repudiate what they taught.

3. The M2C intellectuals have established an elaborate academic framework around M2C that they cannot easily restructure or dismantle.

4. The M2C intellectuals have trained their minds to think M2C and are unable, psychologically, to see the issues differently. The psychological box they are in has spread throughout the Church because these intellectuals have imprinted the M2C catechism on thousands of students in CES and BYU, as well as every Church member who views M2C artwork in lesson manuals, Church buildings, Visitors Centers, etc. To unwind all of this is unthinkable for the M2C intellectuals who have perpetrated M2C.

Let's look at factor 4, which I describe with the shorthand term Mesomania.

It is not easy to persuade active, faithful LDS that the prophets and apostles are wrong.

Even after decades of concerted effort through CES, BYU, and COB Departments (History, Correlation, Missionary, Curriculum, etc.), the M2C intellectuals have not persuaded all members of the Church that the prophets were wrong. In fact, the tide may be turning.

The M2C intellectuals have long felt under attack by non-LDS scholars who find zero connection between Mesoamerican culture and the Book of Mormon. M2C has long been an obstacle for investigators who know what non-LDS scholars have said. That obstacle is even greater now with the Internet, as we see with the sharp decline in convert baptisms among English-speaking, Internet-accessing investigators.

Lately, more and more LDS people are reaching the same conclusion as the non-LDS scholars. Because BYU, CES and COB have so adamantly promoted M2C, the cognitive dissonance continues to build. People who leave the Church cite this as a major reason for their decision.

The whole situation is a tragic fulfillment of Joseph Fielding Smith's prophetic warning that M2C would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

And yet, the M2C intellectuals persist. Why?

I think the underlying factor for the persistence of M2C is #1; i.e., they think the evidence disproves the New York Cumorah.

Let's set aside the teachings of the prophets for a moment and look at what the M2C intellectuals have been taught about the evidence.

First, the only reason M2C intellectuals focus on Mesoamerica is because of the false tradition that Joseph Smith wrote or endorsed the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and SeasonsThese intellectuals have worked for decades to vindicate what they thought Joseph taught in 1842, to the point where they reject what he (and all the other prophets and apostles) actually did teach.

Second, to vindicate the anonymous articles, M2C intellectuals adopted an interpretation of the text that describes Mesoamerica.

Third, today's M2C intellectuals have been taught that "correspondences" between Mayan culture and their interpretation of the text constitute evidence. John Sorenson is probably the best-known advocate of this approach, as exemplified by his book, Mormon's Codex. The "correspondences" approach is how we have PhD experts in Mesoamerican history/culture coming up with all kinds of "correspondences" that confirm their biases.

It's obvious to anyone who doesn't share the M2C bias that these "correspondences" are illusory. They are characteristics of all, or most, human cultures around the world and throughout history. Like the interpretations of the geographical passages in the text, these "correspondences" could be found literally anywhere in the world.

Because the text and the "correspondences" can be found anywhere in the world, why do the M2C intellectuals utterly reject the New York Cumorah?

The answer is found in a single paragraph on pages 81-2 in David Palmer's book, In Search of Cumorah.

The Moundbuilders

Prior to 1,000 A.D., the most advanced culture in the United States was that of the "moundbuilders." Their very impressive mounds throughout the eastern United States were the subject of curiosity, looting, and debate from the time of the colonists to the time of Joseph Smith. As previously mentioned, they figured into Mormon church history during the march of Zion's camp through Ohio and Illinois. Though Joseph Smith took an interest in them, he never equated them with Book of Mormon cities or events, as he later would do with ruins in Mesoamerica.

There you have it.

The basic premise of M2C.

Everything else published by the M2C citation cartel on this topic is pure confirmation bias, intended to validate Palmer's thesis.

And yet, Palmer's thesis was wrong on both counts.

Whether Palmer knew about it or not, he didn't tell readers that Joseph did actually equate the moundbuilders [Now called Hopewells] to the Book of Mormon during Zion's camp, as well as later in Nauvoo.

While traversing Ohio, Indiana and Illinois during Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith explained to the Brethren that they were crossing the plains of the Nephites. He wrote to Emma, describing what he was seeing: "The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly [sic] the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity."

These plains are mentioned three times in the text: i.e., "meet them upon the plains between the two cities" (Alma 52:20); "pitch their tents in the plains of Nephihah" (Alma 62:18) and "battle against them, upon the plains" (Alma 62:19). The Jaredites referred to the "plains of Agosh" (Ether 14:15-16) and the "plains of Heshlon" (Ether 13:28-29).

Palmer's claim that Joseph equated the ruins in Mesoamerica with the Book of Mormon is based on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, which were written by anyone but Joseph Smith, Jr.

Confirmation bias, even when it seeks to validate false premises is so powerful that it leads faithful members of the Church to reject the prophets if the teachings of the prophets contradict the bias.

As President Ezra Taft Benson warned, "The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man...

Palmer's book contains an entire chapter on the New York model. On page 80, he claims that "there are a number of other criteria that are definitely not satisfied [by the New York model]:

- near a narrow neck of land
- the presence of fountains
- in a land of volcanoes susceptible to earthquakes
- in a temperate climate with no cold or snow
- the hill must be a significant landmark (it only stands out because of the monument of Moroni on top)
- the abundance of water must provide a military advantage
- near the eastern seacoast
- on a coastal plain, and possibly near other mountains and valleys
- there is an escape route to the land southward
- the hill must be large enough to provide a view of hundreds of thousands of bodies

By now, I trust readers can see the logical and factual fallacies in these "criteria" so I won't go through them. But you can see how an M2C intellectuals who accepts these "criteria" would reach the same conclusion Palmer did.

To be fair, Palmer published this book in 1981. Quite a bit of work has been done on the Hopewell in the ensuing 37 years.

According to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites were in a constant state of warfare and retreat from Zarahemla and Bountiful to Cumorah from the time Mormon became their leader until his death. This is roughly 300-400 A.D.

The archaeological record shows that Hopewellian societies in Ohio also ended around 350-400 A.D. Between 300-400 A.D., Hopewellian residential sites were aggregated into defensive, often enclosed communities that were formed on the margins of the lands used by earlier generations. The inhabited valleys were abandoned, and smaller and smaller groups migrated to Western New York, where there are dozens of sites featuring Hopewellian artifacts, including weapons.

Soon we'll start going through this archaeological evidence in more detail.

In my view, though, it is more important for members of the Church to accept the teachings of the prophets on faith than to decide whether or not to accept the prophets based on whether we agree with them. 

If the M2C intellectuals took the same approach, they would find a way to dismantle their M2C contraption and help unify Church members instead of dividing them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Weighing the evidence

Because of confirmation bias, it is nearly impossible for people to weigh evidence identically. We don't even see it identically.

Our minds filter the deluge of data we absorb through our senses so we can sort it all out according to our priorities (and biases). That's why two people can observe the exact same event or consider the exact same set of facts yet reach two completely different conclusions.

In terms of Book of Mormon geography/historicity, there are dozens of plausible models, all of which honestly think they are faithfully applying the descriptions in the text to the real world. One group believes the entire Book of Mormon took place in Baja California. Another thinks it was in Panama. Others claim it took place in Chile, or Mesoamerica, or New York, or the Heartland, etc. Within each of there there are multiple possibilities that people discuss and even debate.

All of these groups can be sorted into one of two categories:
(i) those who accept the New York Cumorah, and
(ii) those who reject the New York Cumorah.

There are two additional groups that we won't discuss in detail here:

(i) those who say the geography doesn't matter (because they have the gift of "exceedingly great faith" (Moroni 10:11) and expect everyone else to have the same gift, contrary to Moroni's explanation that "there are different ways that these gifts are administered"); and

(ii) those who don't believe Cumorah even exists because they think the Book of Mormon is fiction (which includes both non-LDS and LDS who think the Book of Mormon is a parable).

How confirmation bias divides people. Every proponent of one model thinks the other models are wrong because they are misinterpreting the text or are making invalid assumptions about cultures, languages, habitats, genetics, geology, changes in the physical structure of the land, and many other variables.

Confirmation bias makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people in one group to see the evidence the way people in another group see it. Hence, the confusion.

But really, all of these models have been developed by faithful members of the Church who believe the Book of Mormon is true. That common belief should be a unifying factor, but confirmation bias overrides the common belief in many respects.

For every item of evidence or every scriptural passage one group cites, there is an equal item of evidence and scriptural passage for another group.

We can pile evidence on evidence, but it's all highly subjective because what each person considers to be persuasive evidence is based on his/her interpretation of the text. That's what makes the semantic debates so futile. Everyone who thinks they have "won" a semantic debate is living a delusion.

This is akin to the semantic debates about religion. Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Evangelicals, Baptists, Methodists--for that matter Hindus, Muslims, and everyone else--has a set of beliefs based on their respective (and subjective) interpretation of what they, subjectively, decide is the Word of God.

These differences generate an emotional attachment to one's beliefs that reinforces the confirmation bias that prevents them from understanding others' views. We become attached to our worldviews. We identify with them. We also identify with "our team," the people who share our worldview.

One of the most important functions of the prophets and the scriptures is to proclaim truth without regard to confirmation bias and emotional attachment to the "traditions of our fathers." When we heed the prophets and the scriptures, we can measure our own beliefs against a standard of truth and make informed, deliberate decisions.

With respect to the Book of Mormon geography issues, the dominant theory is M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). The fundamental premise of M2C is that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. Consequently, the M2C intellectuals rely on sophistry and absolute thought control through the citation cartel and the Correlation Department.

Of course, there is no majority rule in determining truth. Mormonism is far from the majority even within the Christian world. Every time I hear an LDS person say they "go with the scholars" or "accept the consensus" I wonder why if they realize how irrational that approach is. After all, the scholars and consensus in the world at large completely reject Mormonism.

But since it is the majority or "consensus" view in the Church today, let's take a look at M2C.

The M2C citation cartel is a group of intellectuals who have all been taught by CES/BYU to think of the Book of Mormon in terms of Mesoamerica and the two-Cumorahs. Other groups are also insular, of course, but in my interactions with the various groups, it is the M2C intellectuals who are the most heavily invested in their model. They have published books and articles, raised millions of dollars from donors, and taught M2C to thousands of students for decades. The COB* employees have imposed M2C on members through the Correlation, History, and other Departments.

The psychological cost of changing their views--of accepting the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah--is sky high. As a result, the stakes are very high for M2C intellectuals and their followers.

For this reason, they often respond with anger when challenged. Try it next time you run into a CES or BYU instructor. Tell them you think Cumorah is in New York and the Mesoamerican theory is a huge mistake. You'll see how angry they get. Or, if not angry, they'll demonstrate a passive/aggressive behavior in some way.

(You may find a CES/BYU/COB employee who has rejected M2C. If so, consider yourself lucky.)

There is a real sense among many Mormons that because CES/BYU/COB promote M2C, it must be "true."

And yet, there is a way for us to weigh the evidence in a meaningful manner.

That's what prophets are for.

Without prophets, we exist in a semantic battle with equivalent evidence that confirms everyone's biases.

But with the prophets, we have an unambiguous, well-defined and specific pin in the map which the prophets and apostles have not only consistently and repeatedly taught since the Church was organized, but which has never been revoked, repudiated, or even questioned by any of the prophets and apostles.

I'm referring, of course, to the New York Cumorah.

Even with the New York Cumorah, there are many ways the text can be interpreted and applied in the real world. But the prophets have given us an important constraint on our consideration of Book of Mormon geography that all members of the Church should be aware of, even if they choose to reject it.

*COB is the acronym for Church Office Building.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

If the Correlation Department was honest...

Anyone who writes to Church leaders asking about Book of Mormon geography will receive a response from the Correlation Department. I discussed this before here, but I've had so many questions about this that I wanted to summarize the situation and offer a viable solution to the Correlation Department.

I'm not encouraging anyone to write to the Church about this topic, but I'm also not discouraging anyone from doing so. I'm just explaining what the answer you get will be, and suggesting what the answer would have been if the Correlation Department had been honestly relaying the teachings of the prophets instead of trying to establish M2C* as the Church's position.

Nothing but inertia and M2C advocacy prevents the Correlation Department from changing its approach and adopting the course Joseph and Oliver established when they respond to future inquiries.

The quick summary is this:

M2C intellectuals have taken over BYU, CES, and departments of the Church including the History and Correlation Departments. But these are employees, and there's a big difference between the employees and Church leaders.

Church leaders (apostles and prophets) have consistently taught two things about the Book of Mormon historicity/geography:

1. The Hill Cumorah is in New York.
2. We don't know where the other events took place.

These are sound positions. Joseph and Oliver, the founding prophets of the Restoration who received all the Priesthood keys, translated and published the Book of Mormon, and organized the Church as the First and Second Elders, established the New York Cumorah as a fact. They had visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in that hill. Their contemporaries and successors repeatedly reaffirmed what they taught about Cumorah. No prophet or apostle has rejected their position, and it's difficult to imagine that any future prophet or apostle will repudiate his predecessors. 

As for the rest of the geography, there are so many sites that fit the Book of Mormon narrative (over a million mound sites in North America alone), that it would be very difficult to identify any specific Book of Mormon site (other than Cumorah) in the absence of future discoveries and/or revelation (or the translation of the additional records promised). It's not a lack of evidence in North America that is the problem; it's too much evidence.

In sharp contrast, M2C intellectuals (including those working for the Correlation Department) have no qualms about saying the prophets are wrong. The M2C intellectuals have sown confusion by conflating the two clear points articulated by the prophets and apostles, replacing them with these twin assumptions:

1. The prophets and apostles were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
2. We know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

"Neutrality." The purported "neutrality policy" we often hear about is really neutrality about which version of M2C is correct; i.e., the History and Correlation Departments, as well as CES and BYU, completely suppress and censor any artwork, quotations, lessons, presentations, etc. that explain what the prophets and apostles have actually taught. Instead, they approve only materials that depict versions of M2C. This is evident at the Visitors Centers, where millions of people every year are taught M2C instead of what the prophets have taught. LDS students throughout the Church are taught in Seminary, Institute and BYU that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Because M2C intellectuals disagree about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, or which mountain in Mesoamerica is the "real hill Cumorah," Church employees are "neutral" about which M2C theory is correct. But they are anything but neutral regarding Book of Mormon geography if you want to talk about what the prophets and apostles have actually taught about the New York hill Cumorah.

The rejection of the prophets by the M2C intellectuals has led millions of Mormons confused and disturbed in their faith--exactly as Joseph Fielding Smith warned when he tried to prevent M2C from taking over. Members of the Church who trust the prophets have no problem. But those who trust the M2C intellectuals definitely have a problem.

If the Correlation Department was honest, it would send something like the following to Church members (and nonmembers) who inquire about Book of Mormon geography.

Prophetic Statements on Book of Mormon Geography

Beginning with President Joseph Smith, Jr., and President Oliver Cowdery, the prophets and apostles have consistently and repeatedly taught two principles about Book of Mormon Geography:

1. The hill Cumorah (described in Mormon 6:6) is in western New York. 

2. The rest of Book of Mormon geography has not yet been determined.

Essays written by President Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith set out these basic facts:

The Hill Cumorah in New York is the site where Joseph Smith found the ancient plates that he translated into the Book of Mormon. This was also the site of Mormon's depository of all the Nephite records, including those he and Moroni abridged to produce the Book of Mormon. This was also the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. 

These essays are available in the Joseph Smith Papers in Histories, Volume 1, pages 38-89, available online at

Beyond the New York Cumorah, the prophets and apostles have never specifically identified any particular site relating to the Book of Mormon. Moreover, they have specifically declined to do so. 

Members of the Church are free to pursue their own studies within the framework established by the prophets and apostles, but no individual is authorized to claim any official position of the Church. Only the official statements of the prophets and apostles as published by the Church, including statements made in General Conference, may be considered authoritative. 

Over the years, some Church leaders have made statements that could be interpreted as relevant to Book of Mormon geography, but these were not, and are, not intended to represent any official Church position. Scholarly works, including web pages, that address these topics represent the views of the respective authors.  

Church members are encouraged to read and study the teachings of the prophets and apostles, along with the scriptures, for guidance in this area. Members would do well to follow the example of President Russell M. Nelson, as explained by Elder Neil L. Andersen in the April 2018 General Conference:

In 1982, two years before being called as a General Authority, Brother Russell M. Nelson said: "I never ask myself, ‘When does the prophet speak as a prophet and when does he not?’ My interest has been, ‘How can I be more like him?’” And he added, “My [philosophy is to] stop putting question marks behind the prophet’s statements and put exclamation points instead.” This is how a humble and spiritual man chose to order his life. Now, 36 years later, he is the Lord’s prophet.

Official statements from the prophets and apostles are found in books published by the Church such as Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith by Elder James E. Talmage and General Conference addresses such as those by President Marion G. Romney (1975), Elder Mark E. Petersen (1975), and President Anthony W. Ivins (1928). 

For example, President Romney's address titled America's Destiny, available online at how the Book of Mormon provides guidance for current issues.

While understanding the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon may be useful, Church members should keep these issues in perspective.

President Russell M. Nelson has taught:

"I would like to add my testimony of the divinity of this book. I have read it many times. I have also read much that has been written about it. Some authors have focused upon its stories, its people, or its vignettes of history. Others have been intrigued by its language structure or its records of weapons, geography, animal life, techniques of building, or systems of weights and measures.

"Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose—to testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental."  [Ensign, November 1999, 69.]

*M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, taught by BYU/CES, etc., that the New York hill is not the "real Cumorah." M2C claims Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and all the other prophets and apostles who have taught that Cumorah is in New York were merely expressing their opinions and they were wrong because the M2C intellectuals know better; i.e., these intellectuals know the "real Cumorah" is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

Monday, April 16, 2018

M2C exposed on Facebook

Last week a Facebook interview was brought to my attention. I made some notes, but this is not a complete transcript or analysis. These are just a few of my observations and thoughts. Watch it yourself if you're interested. As always, I emphasized that everyone involved with this topic is an awesome, nice, well-meaning person. People just have different biases they seek to confirm.

The fundamental fallacy of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) is currently on display on Facebook. The degree of self-delusion it takes to accept M2C has rarely been seen so clearly.

Thanks to the M2C intellectuals, people such as Dr. Michael Coe still think Joseph Smith wrote the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that linked the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica. Then we end up with interviews such as this on Facebook:

Some M2C intellectuals asked questions during the presentation. E.g., Michael Ash asked, "So Joseph read Stephen's widely read books (published 1841/2) while he was writing the BoM (1830)?" And Zander Sturgill, who works for Book of Mormon Central America, wrote "Good question by Michael Ash."

If you watch the video, Dr. Coe had never made such a claim and he easily responded by explaining that after Joseph read these travel books, he identified the Mayan ruins as having been built by Book of Mormon people.

If you're not blinded by Mesomania, you realize that Joseph never read those books and never commented on them. The entire premise of M2C is a mistaken attribution of anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons to Joseph Smith. Dr. Coe takes that premise on its face and uses it to undermine faith.

Dr. Coe also points out that all ancient civilizations had roads.

Zander asked, "Did roads connect to marketplaces in the Maya world, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon?"

This is a funny question that reflects M2C confirmation bias because the Book of Mormon mentions exactly one market (Helaman 7:10). Besides, what would a road do if not connect places, and where there are people, there are products and services.

Dr. Coe points out that warfare, defensive structures, etc. are ubiquitous; every human civilization has them. "The Mayans were like everyone else. They had wars..."

The Book of Mormon says the people had wars, but so did every other human civilization. M2C is based entirely on such illusory correspondences, and on the basis of these illusory correspondences, M2C intellectuals want members of the Church to disbelieve the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah.

Coe pointed out that "One thing Joseph Smith didn't get was the Mayan inscriptions.... They're not in an old world language."

This is the compound fallacy of M2C regarding language. While the Book of Mormon describes the Nephites as literate, the larger group they joined (people of Zarahemla) were explicitly illiterate. And the even larger group of Lamanites were not only illiterate, but they sought to destroy the Nephite records, from beginning to end (Enos and Mormon both talk about this). Mormon had to conceal the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York specifically because the Lamanites would destroy them if they found them. And the only written languages mentioned in the text are Hebrew and Egyptian. The last place the Book of Mormon could have taken place is in the midst of a literate society with widespread writing and records that are neither Hebrew nor Egyptian.

IOW, the last place the Nephites could have lived was in Mesoamerica, where Mayan writing exists everywhere, even after the Spanish destroyed so many records. This was a highly literate society, with careful historical records and stone monuments, all in Mayan language that is never mentioned or even alluded to in the Book of Mormon.

In the face of all the evidence about Mayan civilization, M2C intellectuals have lately resorted to the argument that the huge, sophisticated Nephite society was also a tiny, unnoticed minority of Hebrews embedded within Mayan culture. The Nephites happened to have kings and a system of judges who interacted with the illiterate Lamanite royalty, all without being impeded in the least by the Mayans. In fact, the M2C intellectuals claim the Nephites influenced the Mayans!

When asked about whether the Nephites could have lived apart from the Mayans somehow, Coe said, "These explanations are so involved..." He points out that the Mayans were fully literate and they lived throughout the area for thousands of years. None of their extensive literature has anything to do with the Book of Mormon. There are thousands of examples, with no indication of ancient Hebrew or Egyptian.

According to Coe, John Sorenson's writings are a fantasy, an insult to the people who made the inscriptions.

Anyone not afflicted with Mesoamania recognizes that Coe's points about Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are sound, factual, and rational.

He notes many similarities between the civilizations of Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica that are difficult to explain. If you really want to look for overseas connections, look to Asia, not the Middle-East. (-1:52:00). Dr. Coe says he couldn't even publish his findings about the links to Southeast Asia because he'd be ridiculed.

Different directions have different colors among Navajo. Also among Mayans and Asians. But not in the Bible. In East Asia, the full moon don't see the man in the moon, they see a rabbit, with a woman holding it. Also in Mesoamerica.

Central Asians migrated to Mesoamerica, according to DNA, language, culture, etc. They didn't go with empty minds.

The paradox of large Nephite civilizations against the absence of their influence.

Zander Sturgill · 1:16:39 So the National Geographic said, “Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

This is the Tikal Area. The Book of Mormon goes up to 400AD.

This is exactly the point I've been making. The larger the Mayan population, the less it fits the Book of Mormon. Plus, the larger the claimed Nephite population, the more striking it is that none of the Book of Mormon appears in the extensive Mayan writings.

Michael Ash · 1:19:50 So Dr. Coe _admits_ that he hasn't followed the current LDS scholarship addressing BoM issues. No offense to Dr. Coe-- who is obviously a brilliant scholar on Mesoamerica, but if he isn't familiar with LDS scholarly arguments, he can't really address them.

Michael Ash · 1:20:54 Cara Amsden. Try earlier FARMS, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter. John Sorenson, & Mark Wright. Lots to read.

Look at how Brother Ash cites the M2C citation cartel. "Current LDS scholarship" consists of repudiating the LDS prophets and apostles, while trying to impose M2C on members of the Church by suppressing those teachings, all because the only "evidence" to support M2C consists of illusory correspondences and wishful thinking.

Zander Sturgill · 1:25:24 Coe does not understand the LDS argument that the Nephites were a small small group among the vast Maya. NOT the Maya themselves.

If you watch the video, you see how Dr. Coe specifically addressed this absurd M2C argument.

Michael Ash · 1:27:43 Brandon Riches. Are you seriously wanting me to write the equivalent of a multi-volume library that already addresses these issues? I'll pass.

This is the age-old argument that more volume = more substance. There is nothing in the M2C argument apart from twin assumptions:

1. The modern prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.
2. Evidence for the Book of Mormon consists of illusory correspondences; i.e., the common attributes of most human societies are present in both the Book of Mormon and Mayan culture, which means the Nephites were Mayans (or lived among the Mayans, depending on which version of M2C you follow).

Dr. Coe boils this M2C argument down to its essence: The Nephites were a bunch of "secret people" no one has heard of or found.

Michael Ash · 1:34:32 Mary Thompson Vogwell. My point is that neither of these two men known the current LDS scholarship so they can't adequately address it. Perhaps Dr. Coe should read the writings of Brant Gardner & then formulate a response.

Dr. Coe points out that propositions should not only be provable, but also falsifiable. How do you disprove something that is so small you can't see them or detect them. "It's a complete fantasy from beginning to end."

Brother Gardner's work is voluminous, for sure, but it all boils down to the same twin M2C points:

1. The prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

2. Illusory correspondences between Mayan culture and the Book of Mormon (actually, Brother Gardner's view of how Joseph should have translated the text) are evidence to justify point #1.

Zander Sturgill · 1:37:31 Coe isn't aware that there are things we see, but just not to the extent that Dehlin has been phrasing things this whole interview. Would Coe be willing to sit down with another organization for an interview?

Tim Birt · 1:37:35 Ash we are dealing with the popular understanding of Mormons and their prophet leaders not obscure apologetic responses how it could still be shown.

Dr. Coe points out that "What is true is so much more interesting than what is fanciful. In science, we deal with things that can be verified or falsified."

This is an interesting point. The M2C intellectuals like to claim their work is scientific and peer-reviewed, but of course it is really only peer-approved; the citation cartel never submits its work to people who disagree with M2C, whether members of the Church or not. That's why I ended up doing my own peer reviews for a while. I haven't spent time on that for a while because everything the M2C intellectuals write is a version of the same twin premises, over and over again.

I invite anyone interested to do your own peer reviews of the citation cartel. You'll quickly discover that if you don't accept the twin premises of M2C, their work doesn't hold up.

Dehlin: Mormon apologists are shrinking the target to something so small that we can't verify or falsify it.

My only problem with Dehlin's comment is he lumps all "Mormon apologists" into the same M2C camp.

Dr. Coe reiterated the M2C position about the Times and Seasons when he said Smith himself said Zarahemla was in Guatemala, so why look elsewhere? -46:00

Another comment was fascinating.

Rob Thomas Damascus · 2:29:54 Josh Gallant *** It is page 12 of the CES letter but I got my people mixed up. It was John E. Clark.whatsoever has been found at this site. John E. Clark, director of BYU’s archaeological organization, wrote in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 17:
“ I n a c c o r d w i t h t h e s e g e n e ra l o b s e r v a t i o n s a b o u t N e w Yo r k a n d
Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object – the Hill Cumorah.
Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no
trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill
is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here.
This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere
for that hill.”

The John Clark article is immensely misleading, IMO. Everyone cites it, but no one has examined it critically because it fits the M2C narrative. It's confirmation bias at its worst. I've addressed it here:

Then there was this comment about the hemispheric model.

Rex Shupe · 2:29:30 Joseph was presented a travel book that described the great cities of Meso America and identifies them as proof of the great civilizations in the BoM. But also most every prophet and apostle since has described the BoM and the Lamanites covering all indigenous “from Barrow to Terra del Fuego”. It is most likely and evidence points that all prophets including Joseph had a hemispheric interpretation of the BoM. The text of the BoM points that direction as well. As does it discount the melding of the Nephites and Lamanites being subsumed into larger populations. I’ve read it over twenty times. To me, and being tutelage by the Church educational system, I was taught that the Jaredites and Lehi came to an empty continent preserved for them.

This is an interesting point, and reflects multiple misperceptions. First, many Mormons have been taught that the entire Jaredite civilization was destroyed at Cumorah, but Moroni specifically limits his account to the people living "in this north country," meaning the area around Cumorah. Ether was writing about his own family line, but the Jaredites had spread throughout the continent. Recent evidence indicates that the earliest Americans arrived by sea, not overland across Beringia, and then migrated north to Alaska and Canada as well as south. This is consistent with the Book of Mormon account of the Jaredites, aside from the dating issue, which I've addressed in the past and will do again soon. The DNA of the indigenous people in the Americas is consistent with this evidence. And there are indications in the text that Lehi's group encountered people when they arrived, but the text explicitly excludes "nations" such as the Mayans. They encountered hunter/gatherer groups, which is consistent with the archaeological record in the Southeastern U.S. We'll be discussing this more in the next few months, but the point is, science contradicts M2C but supports the Moroni's America scenario.

Dr. Coe also points out that the Mayans never had large armies, but Aztecs had a force of 400,000, others 200,000. Maybe 700,000 men in Aztec army. 5,600,000 people slain in a battle. -26:00

I don't think the Nephites has very large armies. Mormon describes an army as "a great number of men, even to exceed the number of thirty thousand." The largest army Mormon ever enumerates was 50,000 (Lamanites) and 42,000 (his Nephite army). (I know, some say Mormon had 230,000 men at Cumorah, but I think that's a misreading of the text.)

In this sense, one could say that, if Dr. Coe is correct, the Nephites fit the Mayan model because they both had small armies. But ironically, the M2C intellectuals are trying to say a much more numerous Mayan civilization is a better fit for the Book of Mormon than the actual numbers Mormon gave us. 

Dehlin: "What millions of Mormons are trying to figure out is whether their Church has told them the truth."

On this point, Dehlin conflates M2C intellectuals with the Church. Church leaders have consistently taught two things about the Book of Mormon historicity/geography:

1. The Hill Cumorah is in New York.
2. We don't know where the other events took place.

M2C intellectuals (including those working for the Correlation Department) have sown confusion by conflating those two clear points, replacing them with these:

1. The prophets and apostles were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
2. We know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

The rejection of the prophets by the M2C intellectuals has led millions of Mormons confused and disturbed in their faith--exactly as Joseph Fielding Smith warned when he tried to prevent M2C from taking over. Members of the Church who trust the prophets have no problem. But those who trust the M2C intellectuals definitely have a problem.

Dr. Coe: "If it's [faith in the Gospel] resting on the Book of Mormon, it's not resting on a firm foundation." Paraphrasing: If you believe the Mormon religion gives you a set of values that are good, don't leave it. But if it depends on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, it's a bad foundation. Stay Mormon if it makes you happy and gives you a better life and for your children and grandchildren. But don't use it to tell scientists that they're wrong.

This is the inevitable outcome of M2C. It leaves people such as Dr. Coe with a false interpretation of the Book of Mormon that doesn't line up with archaeology, anthropology, geology, etc. 

Dr. Coe made another comment that was interesting but I don't have time to delve into right now.

Garreth Lowe, an archaeologist for the NWAF, had 3 different families. He was a "bothered Mormon." He believed in Celestial marriage. It only came out when he died. He had two Mexican wives. There were plenty of polygamous Mormons at that time in Mexico. He was bothered at first by evolution. At the end he pretty much lost his faith.

Dee Green at BYU, etc.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Visitors to Cumorah never learn what the prophets have taught

Church members find it difficult to believe that the Visitors Center on Temple Square still teaches the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). If you don't live in Utah or haven't visited Temple Square lately, you can see this for yourself here:

While it's ridiculous for the Temple Square Visitors Center to teach M2C (so much for the so-called neutrality policy), what's happening at the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center near Palmyra, New York, is even worse.

I've been here in Palmyra for the last few days. (We have a house here.) I stood on the hill Cumorah yesterday, in fact, watching the sunset. It was an awesome sight--the same one Mormon and Moroni had when they saw the Lamanites in the distance, preparing for the final battle that would extinguish the Nephite nation.

And yet, most of the visitors here have no idea of what happened.

Visitors to Cumorah never learn what the prophets have taught. 

At least, not in the Visitors Centers.

Grandin print shop M2C display
Even in the Grandin Print shop, where the first copies of the Book of Mormon were printed, visitors are taught M2C.

Look at this display. It shows Mormon abridging the records in Mesoamerica. The message of this artwork is specific and unmistakable: Mormon lived in Mesoamerica, Moroni had to haul the plates 3,400 miles all the way to New York State.

If you look closely, you'll see Mormon inside a Mayan temple or building, with Mayan war implements, Mayan animal skins, etc. The fact that this painting is on display this way in Palmyra is a direct repudiation of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Hill Cumorah Visitors Center
Then you go to the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center itself. The entire Visitors Center teaches M2C, with not a word about what the prophets have actually taught about Cumorah.

One wonders why the Correlation Department allows them to still call it the Hill Cumorah. After all, according to the M2C intellectuals, including the staff in the Correlation Department, Joseph Smith never called the hill "Cumorah." Instead, he passively adopted a false tradition started by someone else.

As if.

Look at this display in the rotunda. It features a statue of Christ, which is wonderful. On the side behind us, there is a painting of Christ in ancient Israel.

Christ asking for the Nephites' records
But look at the painting in front of us here.

This is not Christ visiting his "other sheep" somewhere in the world.

This is the infamous painting of Christ asking the Nephites for their records during his visit to them. It is fully, 100%, M2C.

This blatant display of M2C, according to the Correlation Department, reflects the so-called "neutrality" policy.

IOW, the Correlation Department is neutral about Book of Mormon geography so long as you
(i) display, teach and advocate M2C and
(ii) never mention what the prophets have actually taught about the New York Cumorah.

This summer, visitors to Cumorah are going to have an opportunity to learn what the prophets have actually taught about the Hill Cumorah, starting with President Cowdery's Letter VII.

It's going to be an interesting summer, for sure.