The wrong course FairMormon takes people on

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Since its inception, FairMormon has been leading its readers on a wrong course because it repudiates the Church’s position of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography.

Why?

Because the management of FairMormon has Mesomania.

What started as a small understandable error that could have been easily corrected has, by now, misled thousands of people, LDS and otherwise.

FairMormon actively teaches its readers that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about Cumorah being in New York. 

FairMormon teaches that Joseph and Oliver ignorantly speculated and thereby created a false tradition that misled the entire Church for 100 years.

Except the mistake was FairMormon’s, not Joseph’s and Oliver’s.

That simple mistake has brought FairMormon to the point of claiming that Brigham Young falsely confirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

FairMormon claims that every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency in General Conference, were wrong.

Fortunately, there’s still time for FairMormon to change course.

Unfortunately, there’s almost zero chance that they will.
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President Uchtdorf’s first talk as a member of the First Presidency, delivered in April 2008, was titled “A Matter of a Few Degrees.” You can read it here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/a-matter-of-a-few-degrees?lang=eng

It’s a classic that people still remember and discuss.

President Uchdorf related an account of a passenger jet that crashed in Antarctica because “someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees.” He explained that “The difference of a few degrees, as with the Antarctica flight … may seem minor. But even small errors over time can make a dramatic difference in our lives.”

This drawing depicts the problem.

The longer you stay on the wrong course, the harder it is to get back to the correct one.

This is why FairMormon, BYU Studies, and the rest are unlikely to change course.

They would rather crash into the mountain of confusion and disturbing the faith of the members, as Joseph Fielding Smith put it, than admit error and change course.
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Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery put the Church on the correct course regarding Book of Mormon historicity and geography. They taught that Cumorah–the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 specifically–was the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates.

The Church kept this course for about a hundred years before scholars from the Reorganized Church changed course and decided Cumorah was actually in Central America. LDS scholars embraced this approach, rejected what Joseph and Oliver taught, and led the Church on a different course.

The different course has led to great confusion, thanks to Church media, publications, and artwork that all depend on–and teach–the idea that Cumorah is not in New York.

Now we’re at a point where a serious course correction is needed.

What would a course correction look like?

First, you’d see a handful of BYU faculty come out in support. Then you’d see more BYU faculty, and probably some CES people, shift to the New York Cumorah. You’d have local Church leaders saying they knew all along that Cumorah was in New York.

Which is where the vast majority of Church members are already.

It’s really only among the intellectuals that the two-Cumorahs theory persists. Most members, as soon as they learn what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, embrace that teaching and reject the sophistry of the LDS intellectuals who continue to promote their Mesoamerican ideology.

A big course correction could come from BYU Studies. Maybe they would publish an article about Letter VII and the evidence that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Maybe even FairMormon would give readers an honest explanation of the North American setting.

I realize that seems unlikely, and it probably is so long as the current management of FairMormon remains in place, but hope springs eternal.

As I’ve mentioned before, the real tragedy is that FairMormon has so much good material on its site that most innocent members (and investigators) who go there don’t realize how deeply misleading FairMormon is when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

The Interpreter would never go along, of course, but soon enough they would be on their own island, abandoned to their fate. The Interpreter is a tragic story, as well, because they do publish some good things there. But they are even more intransigent than FairMormon, if that’s possible.
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I often get reports from people who have tried to talk to the LDS intellectuals who promote the two-Cumorahs/Meosamerican theories. The response is always the same. They couldn’t care less about what you think. They won’t discuss Letter VII and related aspects of Church history. They won’t even consider a North American setting for the Book of Mormon.

You can let these LDS scholars and educators know what you think, but they don’t really care what you think, so you’re wasting your time.

It is far better for you do learn all you can. Don’t rely on LDS intellectuals for information because they are pushing a specific agenda that repudiates what Joseph and Oliver taught, as well as the Church’s neutrality position.

The course correction that matters most is the one we make individually.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

"Camorah" in 1830

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Letter VII’s observations about Cumorah reflected teachings that were known before the translation of the Book of Mormon was even finished, as we know from David Whitmer’s account of the trip from Harmony to Fayette.

Nevertheless, some scholars claim that the association of the “New York hill” with ancient Cumorah was a later invention. They say it was a false tradition started by unknown persons, and that Joseph Smith passively adopted this false tradition.

One of the Histories included in the Joseph Smith Papers was written by John Corrill. Titled A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839, Corrill relates his experience with the missionaries in Ohio in 1830.

You can read it here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/john-corrill-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-christ-of-latter-day-saints-1839/5

Notice what he writes about Cumorah:

“Sometime in the fall of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer [Jr.] and Tiba [Ziba] Peterson, came through the county of Ashtabula, Ohio, where I then resided, on their way westward. They professed to be special messengers of the Living God, sent to preach the Gospel in its purity, as it was anciently preached by the Apostles. They had with them a new revelation, which they said had been translated from certain golden plates that had been deposited in a hill, (anciently called Camorah,) in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York. They were deposited about 1400 years since by one Moroni, under the direction of Heaven, with a promise that in the Lord’s own due time, they should be brought forth, for the special benefit of the remnant of his people, the house of Israel, through Joseph, of Egypt, as well as for the salvation of the Gentiles upon this continent. This soon became the topic of conversation in that section of country, and excited the curiosity of the people…”

If you remember from Letter VII, Oliver pointed out that Camorah was an incorrect spelling. But the point here is these early missionaries, including Oliver Cowdery, were teaching that the hill in New York was “anciently called Camorah.”

Oliver was with David Whitmer and Joseph Smith in May/June 1829 when they met the divine messenger who was going to Cumorah with the Harmony plates. It was this messenger who identified Cumorah as a real place to which he was traveling in New York.

Later, of course, Oliver, Joseph and others visited Mormon’s depository of records in the same hill, which Mormon labeled Cumorah in Mormon 6:6.

Source: Letter VII

Experts won’t change their minds, but will you?

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When there’s a difference of opinions in a group, reaching consensus requires that one, some or all members of a group change those opinions.

Reaching consensus is difficult because changing one’s opinion is so difficult. It’s one of the most greatest psychological challenges humans face. It seems especially difficult for people who consider themselves experts.

Facts are largely irrelevant because people don’t base their opinions on facts in the first place. Instead, we form opinions for social and psychological reasons.
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I appeal to everyone interested in Book of Mormon geography to set aside the social and psychological factors and consider the long-term implications of whatever you believe.

I’ve called this the 3D or 3 dimensional approach because too much of the discussion has focused on two-dimensional semantics, thereby skirting the fundamental issue of whether or not we support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver so clearly taught.

I expect my appeal to be rejected by the main promoters of the Mesoamerican theory, the unbelieving experts at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest, but I hope other members of the Church who have been influenced by these experts can reconsider their opinions openly and as objectively as possible.
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One of the most common questions people ask me is why the “BYU experts” won’t look at the evidence. I frequently hear from readers that they’ve asked the experts questions, only to be rebuffed and dismissed. Our LDS scholars and educators, by and large, refuse to engage with the discussion about Cumorah for basic psychological reasons that are well known.

It’s the same reason why they won’t ever allow a straightforward comparison of their Mesoamerican ideology with what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah, let alone with what I call Moroni’s America.

I could write an entire book about the psychological issues involved. In fact, I did. It’s called Mesomania. But that was a preliminary analysis, a brief overview, at best. There is a lot more going on here.

In this post, I’ll touch on the “illusion of explanatory depth” and then propose a solution.
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Here is an extract from an overview of some of the research in this area:

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. … 

We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. 

[FWIW, I don’t subscribe to this type of evolutionary psychology, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.]

So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

If pressed about Cumorah, our LDS scholars and educators will explain (usually condescendingly) that the “real Cumorah” cannot be in New York because there are no volcanoes there and there is no evidence of millions of people living there, or of massive warfare on the hill. You will see this at FairMormon, for example.
This is a textbook case of the “illusion of explanatory depth.” These explanations are based on false assumptions that have acquired an aura of “knowledge” because they were incorporated into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and from there infiltrated Church media and curriculum. 
But as I’ve noted in hundreds of blog posts by now, the “explanation” is illusory.
There are no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon.
The text does not claim there were millions of people living around Cumorah.
And the final battles involved a few thousand people, not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands.
This is why our LDS experts and educators cannot engage on the facts. They think they have an explanation, but it is an illusion, borrowed from someone else, passed on from one generation to the next, mainly through BYU and CES.
The article continues:
As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration. 
[Note: I think the author of this article (but not the original studies) suffers from the very illusion of explanatory depth she writes about. The Trump Administration is forcing people across the spectrum to re-evaluate their opinions, and none of them like it, including this author, because they are realizing their opinions are not fact-based but are Groupthink that is driven by political agendas. This unintended irony doesn’t detract from the article’s main point about the psychology of changing opinions; instead, it’s a great example of it.]
This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. 
In my opinion, the “community of knowledge” created by LDS scholars and educators who promote Mesoamerica has become dangerous to the faith of members of the Church, just as Joseph Fielding Smith said it would.
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The article continues:
Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

This is where I think we would see a huge difference. If our LDS scholars and educators thought through the implications of their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught, I think we could shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s opinions about Book of Mormon geography.
________________

Now, what is the solution?

Yesterday in Sunday School in the Manhattan Ward, we had an outstanding lesson about Church history. D&C 107 specifies that three quorums are “equal in authority” to one another: The Presidency of the Church (now called the First Presidency), which consists of 3 members; the Quorum of the 12; and the Seventy.

Verse 27 provides: “And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—”

As the numbers increase in any group, it is more difficult to get a unanimous decision. The First Presidency can reach a unanimous decision faster than the Quorum of the Twelve, which can reach a unanimous decision faster than an entire Quorum of the Seventy. Not that speed is the priority, but it’s a practical reality in a fast-changing world.

So how do these groups of strong-willed, smart, and experienced people reach a consensus?

The revelation continues:

“30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

“31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.”

I think everyone involved with Book of Mormon geography would reach a consensus at least about the New York Cumorah if we could somehow follow the directions the Lord gave us in D&C 107. But that cannot happen when people are already convinced, because of the “illusion of explanatory depth,” that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about Cumorah.

Source: Book of Mormon Concensus

Comparison chart and decision tree

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In my last post, I alluded to a comparison chart I did a while back (August 15, 2016) on my consensus blog. Here’s the link:

http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2016/08/agree-and-agree-to-disagree-lists.html

I could add more sections now, but I’ll stick with the one from last year for now because it clarifies the issues pretty well. And after more than a year, it holds up pretty well.

I understand there are some Mesoamerican proponents who object to the way I’ve framed these issues, but no one has pointed out any factual errors or misstatements about the respective positions. If anyone knows of any such errors or misstatements, let me know and I’ll correct the chart.

When you go through the items, you can see why the unbelievers at FairMormon will never include such a chart on their web page. 

Same with the unbelievers at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc. 
_____

Earlier this year, I posted a decision tree that helps people decide which setting of the Book of Mormon they agree with. Because there are so many new readers here, maybe many of you missed it, so here it is again.

http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2017/02/cumorah-decision-tree-for-book-of.html

The last three items in the decision tree seem to be the ones that people have to really think about when they continue to insist on the Mesoamerican setting.

I could add more to those, as well, as could most readers of this blog.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

When to trust experts

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Even on this trip across the North Atlantic, I’ve had a few occasions to discuss Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

I actually thought that by now, the Mesoamerican theory would have been relegated to a footnote in Church history, but it’s still going strong. It’s an unfortunate legacy that will endure until its main promoters set the example and renounce it.

The Mesoamerican theory is like the parable of the feathers. Once the wind blows them away, it’s nearly impossible to collect them again. A case in point is “Brother Scott,” who has lately spent a lot of money in Utah promoting his own version of the “two-Cumorahs” theory. He is not only uninformed and misinformed, but he is intransigent. He refuses to even discuss the facts. As I wrote earlier, he might as well teach the youth how to resign from the Church if he’s going to keep teaching them the things he says in his seminars.

I think it’s time for our LDS scholars who have promoted Mesoamerica for so long to take responsibility for what they’ve taught and start telling people the whole truth.
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When we compare the New York Cumorah to the Mexican Cumorah, it’s not even a close call.
On one side, we have declarative, specific statements by two men who actually visited the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. Two men who translated the Book of Mormon, handled the plates, and received revelations. Two men who, together, actually interacted with heavenly beings, including the Savior Himself, on multiple occasions.
On the other side, we have modern LDS scholars who cast doubt on the credibility of Joseph and Oliver (and David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc.) solely to defend their own Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory.
When framed this way, are there even 1% of Church members who would side with the scholars?
I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to change one’s mind. I believed the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory for decades. But one thing’s for sure. It’s a lot better to have been wrong and admit it than continue to be wrong when you know better.
So why do our LDS scholars and experts continue to promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory? And how should people decide whether to believe them?
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Scott Adams wrote a post titled “When to Trust the Experts” that I’d like to use as a template to discuss the Book of Mormon.


The first question is, what experts are there?

Among living people, there are about a dozen experts who promote the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. I won’t name them, but you can discover who they are by looking at BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon, BMAF/Book of Mormon Central, and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. These experts have disproportionate impact because they mostly teach, or have taught, at BYU and/or CES, they are part of the citation cartel that controls LDS scholarly publications, and they dominate other LDS media such as Meridian Magazine and the Deseret News.

Every BYU student has to take two courses on the Book of Mormon, and for the last 40+ years, they have been taught the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. As a result, it has become the quasi-official position of the Church. This is why you see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory on display in Church media, Visitors centers, and even within the pages of the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon itself in the choice of illustrations. The people who prepare and approve all of this material were educated by Mesoamerican promoters.

Latter-day Saints have deferred to these experts because we trusted them to tell us the truth. And for many years, their position made sense. They all assumed Joseph Smith wrote the Mesoamerican articles in the Times and Seasons, for example. They assumed Cumorah couldn’t be in New York because there’s no archaeological evidence of millions of people living and dying in that area, an assumption they made despite what Joseph and Oliver taught. They assumed the Book of Mormon describes volcanoes, even though the text doesn’t use the term. All of these assumptions and more were designed to support their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, but we’ve seen on this blog that none of these assumptions were accurate.

Meanwhile, these experts ignored the statements of the modern prophets and apostles about Cumorah being in New York. Actually, it’s worse. They rejectedthese statements, deeming them private opinions that were wrong, even when stated in General Conference by members of the First Presidency.

For this reason, in my view, they have violated our trust.

These experts have known all along about Letter VII, for example, but they never told their students about it. They’ve known about Mormon’s depository in the New York Cumorah, but they never told their students about it. In fact, when someone discovers what Brigham Young taught about the depository just two months before he died—something he said he didn’t want the Church to forget—these experts dismiss his teaching as an account of a “vision” Oliver had of a hill in Mexico. They don’t tell us that Brigham Young explained Joseph and Oliver visited the depository multiple times, and that he related the account because he was from New York and knew the area well.
We trusted these experts—but we shouldn’t have.

Especially now, when they know better but continue insisting on their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

Now, let’s look at what Scott Adams says about trusting experts.

So how do we know when to trust experts and when to be skeptical? Here are the red flags you should look for in order to know how much credibility to assign to the experts.
Money Distortion
When the players have money on the line, the truth gets distorted. In climate science, money influences both sides of the debate. That’s a red flag.
Money distorts truth when there is a financial or similar incentive to distort truth, but when there is an incentive to promote and establish truth, money can be an important tool for clarifying truth. In this case, most of the promoters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory are financially secure faculty, or former faculty, of BYU, CES and affiliates.
People often tell me that advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory make a lot of money off of their books and tours, but I don’t think that’s the case. No one involved with the question of Book of Mormon geography, on any side, is motivated by money. The market simply isn’t big enough.
Instead, I think academic pride and reputation drives the discussion. The LDS experts have published and taught the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory for decades. Basic human nature prevents them from readily acknowledging they’ve been wrong.
People would rather live with cognitive dissonance than admit error.
Many missionaries have met/taught religious leaders who have acknowledged that they think the Church is true, but simply cannot acknowledge that they have taught falsehoods their entire lives. Money has nothing to do with it. (Okay, some paid ministers may ask “What will I do for a living?” But I don’t think this is a significant factor for those engaged in researching and teaching Book of Mormon geography issues.)
Far more important than money is the natural human aversion to admitting error. Therefore, those who have admitted they’ve been wrong about something—those who have actually changed their minds about something signficant—are more credible than those who refuse to do so.   
Complexity with Assumptions
Whenever you see complexity, that is a red flag. Complexity is often used to deceive. And complexity invites human error.
Compare the difference between simply accepting what Joseph and Oliver taught—that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York—with the complex list of “requirements” designed to (i) exclude the New York Cumorah and (ii) establish Mesoamerica as the only possible location of the “real” Cumorah.  
Compare the difference between simply accepting what the modern prophets and apostles have said and written about the New York Cumorah with the complexity of parsing their words and claiming they were all wrong because they were merely expressing private opinions that were naïve, based on a false tradition, etc. My favorite example of this is characterizing Brigham Young’s urgent, detailed and forceful explanation of what Oliver Cowdery related about the depository in New York as nothing but a vague “vision” of a hill in Mexico.
The Important Fact Left Out
When people have the facts on their side, they are quick to point it out. When a key fact is glaringly omitted, that’s a red flag.
What facts do supporters of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory leave out? The mere existence of Letter VII to start with, followed by its ubiquity during Joseph’s lifetime. If you were a member of the Church when Joseph Smith was alive, you knew Cumorah was in New York. There was no question about it. Not even any room for questions.
By contrast, there are no facts about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory that I have not addressed on this blog and in my books. If anyone knows of such a fact, I’d be happy to address it.
Conflation of Credibility
Whenever you see someone conflate a credible thing (such as the peer review system in science) with a less-credible thing (long term prediction models), that’s a red flag. If you question the accuracy of climate models, someone will mention the gold standard of peer review, even though that doesn’t address climate models that involve human assumptions. Conflation of credibility is a red flag.
One of the ways our LDS experts and scholars justify their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is by claiming their work is “peer reviewed.” This is classic conflation of credibility, not only for the reasons Scott Adams mentions, but because in this case, our experts don’t allow any reviews of their work by people who disagree with their theory.
IOW, our LDS scholarly publications are not really “peer reviewed.”
They’re “peer approved.”
They are screened by like-minded individuals for compliance with Groupthink ideology.
Climate Models: As soon as you hear that someone has a complicated prediction model, that’s red flag. If you hear that the model involves human assumptions and “tweaking,” that’s a double red flag. If you hear there are dozens of different models, that’s a triple red flag. If you hear that the models that don’t conform to the pack are discarded, and you don’t know why, that is a quadruple red flag. And if you see people conflating climate projections with economic models to put some credibility on the latter, you have a quintuple red flag situation.
To be fair, none of the so-called flags I mentioned means the models are wrong. But they do mean you can’t put the same credibility on them as you would the basic science.
The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory resembles the climate models in these respects.
It is complicated. It relies on sophistry and parsing of terms to explain away the plain meaning of what Joseph Smith wrote. You have to have a PhD to understand all the nuances and interpretations of Mayan culture, and how it relates to the Book of Mormon text.
It relies on human assumptions and “tweaking.” The Sorenson model requires you to believe that “north” means “west,” that a “horse” is a “tapir,” etc. Other models require you to believe the text describes volcanoes and massive stone pyramids, along with other assumptions.
There are dozens of models based on the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. The experts can’t even agree on the criteria for the Mexican Cumorah, let alone which mountain it must be. They don’t believe it’s a hill, even; if they did, their task would be hopeless because there are thousands of hills in southern Mexico.
By contrast, of course, Joseph and Oliver identified a single, readily identifiable hill in New York as the one real Cumorah. There’s no complication. No tweaking. No multiple versions.
True, knowing the location of Cumorah does not end the inquiry. There are many other geographical features to be worked out, and people disagree about them even with the New York Cumorah, but at least these scenarios support what Joseph and Oliver taught.  
The One Sided Argument
When I see climate scientists in the media, they are never accompanied by skeptical scientists who can check their statements in real time. Likewise, articles by and about skeptics are usually presented without simultaneous debunking by the experts on the other side. Those are red flags. Any presentation of one side without the simultaneous fact-checking by the other is useless and almost certainly designed for persuasion, not truth. The problem here is that both sides of the climate debate are 100% persuasive when viewed without the other in attendance. If you think your side is the smart side, check out the other side. They look just as smart, at least to non-scientists such as me.
For years now, I’ve sought to work with advocates of the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory to produce a side-by-side comparison of the New York Cumorah with the Mexican Cumorah. Because they refused, I developed my own comparison and invited their input. Here’s my chart.
The reason the experts decline to present both sides is obvious. Most members of the Church—I think 99%, but maybe after years of conditioning about the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory, the number might be as low as 98%–would accept what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII if they knew about it.
It isn’t even a close comparison, really.
I remain hopeful that our LDS scholars and educators will support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. I’m willing and able to engage with them in any forum, in any manner, regarding any facts, reasoning or argument on this topic.
In the meantime, you can study these issues on your own and share with others.
If you are attending BYU or another CES class on Church history or the Book of Mormon, ask your instructors about Letter VII.

Eventually, and soon, we’ll get this issue resolved.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Interlude-Iceland

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I’ve been taking a break from blogging because we don’t have regular Internet access here in Iceland, but I thought readers might like to see what I’m up to.

I’m at a geothermal power plant in northern Iceland. Yesterday we climbed an enormous caldera, etc. It’s an awesome country with lots to discuss in my work on environmental science, which isn’t relevant to this blog but a lot of fun anyway.

I’ll be back in a few weeks. Maybe by then everyone in the Church will be in sync regarding Letter VII and the New York Hill Cumorah.

Meanwhile, I’m finishing up my next book. I’ll post the Introduction next week.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Brother Scott is back, worse than ever

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Several people noticed the ad in the print version of the Deseret News that comes with the Church News in Utah.

This “Brother Scott” is the gentleman I blogged about before.

Only now it’s even worse.

“Brother Scott” is co-opting Family Home Evenings by holding events on Mondays, Sept 11, 18, 25 and Oct 2.

Plus, he’s targeting the youth.

He might as well tell kids how to resign from the Church as teach them the stuff he’s teaching, because the “evidence” he offers directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah, and he doesn’t care.

Check out his web page here: http://bofmwitnesses.com/
___________
I’ve tried to talk to him nicely. So have others. He’s completely intransigent, the epitome of zeal without knowledge. He went on a trip to Mesoamerica, apparently, and bought everything the local guides sold him (both intellectually and souvenirs).
And he’s actually worse than our Meso friends at BYU because he’s telling people stuff that even the Meso guys know is not credible. 
One friend of mine heard him give his presentation at his ward, so he’s having success getting invitations to speak in wards and stakes.
It’s really tragic. A few minutes on the Internet and anyone can see his claims are nonsense. I showed just a few of them in my blogs, but I could have done more. 
If he wasn’t abusing the Family Home Evening schedule, I’d recommend people attend and try to talk sense to him, but don’t waste your time on Mondays. He’s not going to listen, anyway.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Value of Historical Research

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I’d like to follow up on President Hinckley’s comment: “If we are going to stay on the track the Lord put us on, we must know our history.”

By now, many LDS scholars and educators think they know my position about Cumorah. They think they know everything about the topic. And maybe they do, but there are still some points I haven’t published yet.

As I’ll explain below, I think it’s unwise to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver’s false traditions. By “allow” I don’t mean interfering with academic freedom; instead, I mean allow them to keep teaching their two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories without being challenged by those who know Church history and who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah.
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LDS literature freely quotes from statements attributed to Joseph Smith. (I’m referring here to statements not included in the scriptures; i.e., statements that have not been canonized.)

In most cases, these statements exist in only one source. I’ll call them “one-source statements.”

In rare cases, we have instances where Joseph Smith wrote, or helped write, material that he personally directed should be copied and reprinted multiple times. I consider these multiple sources because each reprinting Joseph directed was an explicit additional endorsement of the content.

In my view, this material has more credibility than material someone claimed Joseph said or wrote (a second-hand source).

Some of the one-source second-hand statements were picked up in History of the Church, which has traditionally been cited as a legitimate source. Historians have long known it was not exactly a reliable source. The compilers added comments based on inferences and conjecture. They often re-wrote original sources to convert them to first person quotations.

The most famous example of this is the quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that appears in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (and is featured in the entry at the MTC in Provo):

“Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: ‘I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.’”

The source for this quotation is not first hand and is not itself a quotation. The compilers of the History of the Church converted it from a summary statement in Wilford Woodruff’s journal into a first person quotation by Joseph Smith. I discussed this in more detail here:
http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/06/please-stop-citing-history-of-church.html

This is a minor objection, of course; we can assume that Woodruff correctly summarized Joseph’s teachings that day, and maybe Joseph even used those phrases, although Woofruff typically used quotation marks when he was directly quoting someone in his journal.

I think it’s misleading to continue using the first person quotation, however. It would be far better to quote Woodruff directly; i.e., “Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book.”
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Because of History of the Church, we have a first-person quotation attributed to Joseph Smith that actually was Woodruff’s personal summary of a day’s teaching. The quotation is ubiquitous, having been printed millions of times, quoted in General Conference, etc. It is universally accepted, even though it is not, technically, accurate.

By contrast, we have the eight historical letters written by Oliver Cowdery with Joseph’s assistance. Joseph specifically endorsed them at least three separate times. (We don’t have evidence that Joseph specifically encouraged his brother William to publish them, but William did publish Letter VII in New York City two days after Joseph’s martyrdom.) They’ve been republished on several other occasions, including in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. Parts of Letter I are included in the Pearl of Great Price.

I’m not aware of any other material that Joseph was so directly involved with and that he had reprinted so many times. One indicator of the value he placed on these letters was that he had both his brother Don Carlos and Benjamin Winchester reprint the letters even after Oliver Cowdery had left the Church. He thought they were important for Church members to know and understand.

Yet our modern LDS scholars and educators continue to reject what these letters teach about Moroni’s visit to Joseph and what Oliver and Joseph taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.
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If I had Mesomania and I wasn’t able to completely censor Letter VII, I’d try to come up with reasons for people to disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver taught. I’ve discussed some of these reasons before, here:

Lately, I’ve heard the rationale that we should disbelieve Letter VII because it has not been canonized. I know, that sounds like a joke, but it’s a serious claim by Mesomaniacs, so I discussed that one recently as well.

Those eight reasons really aren’t persuasive. So how about this one? How about a claim that Joseph didn’t write the letters, but that it was merely Oliver’s opinion, and Oliver was wrong?

Obviously, it’s a problem for Mesomaniacs to have Joseph Smith repeatedly endorsing the letters, even after Oliver left the Church. Mesomaniacs claim Joseph simply adopted a false tradition that Oliver started, but does any historian really believe that? D&C 28:11 is one of many examples in which Joseph corrected others whose teachings were false.

If we’re going to allow BYU scholars to keep Joseph on a track of adopting Oliver’s false traditions, we need to realize that track is on a slippery slope to oblivion, because Oliver was the only other witness to some of the most foundational events in Church history. 
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As long as we’re taking about tracks, here’s another one to consider.

The Lord designated Oliver Cowdery as a writer for the Church. In addition to being the principal scribe for the Book of Mormon, the Lord told Joseph Smith in 1831, “And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him [Phelps], even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him.” (D&C 57:13).

In fact, the Lord told Phelps that “you shall be ordained to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me.” (D&C 55:4)

That Oliver took this charge seriously is evident from his Valedictory when he concluded his service at the Messenger and Advocate.

Here is a man called by revelation to copy, correct and select things that may be right before the Lord, as directed by the Spirit. He was directed to select and write books for church schools. He was ordained as Assistant President of the Church. He worked closely with Joseph Smith when he wrote the historical letters, including Letter VII. He specified that it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

And yet, our modern LDS scholars reject what Oliver taught purely because of their own theories about two Cumorahs and Mesoamerica.
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Source: Book of Mormon Wars

The Unbelievers at FairMormon

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People often ask me how, when the people behind FairMormon purport to be faithful, dedicated Latter-day Saints, they can continue to advocate the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories.

It’s not a question of faith and dedication to the gospel. All the individuals I’ve met who contribute to and manage FairMormon are nice, sincere, and dedicated to supporting the Church and the prophets and apostles, with one exception. They are disbelievers when it comes to what Joseph, Oliver, David, Brigham, all their contemporaries and successors taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York (and related matters).

The FairMormon organization actually believes they are building faith by attacking the credibility and reliability of Joseph, Oliver, David, etc.

You can see how it’s not a question of faith or dedication. In their minds, they are doing the right thing.

Instead, it’s a question of obsession with Mesoamerica, which I label Mesomania.

I’m hearing that people associated with FairMormon are upset at my criticism, but in my view, they’re not upset enough because they continue to refuse to follow the Church policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography. 

On their web page and in their conferences and books, they present only carefully edited material designed to promote their Mesomania. They refuse to present alternative ideas. Most importantly, they refuse any information that supports what Joseph and Oliver taught about the one Cumorah in New York.

We all know why FairMormon won’t adopt the Church policy of neutrality. We and they know that very few Church members would accept the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories if they had all the facts. That’s why FairMormon (and the rest of the Conclave) suppress and ridicule what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in Letter VII and other places.

The evidence of how deeply FairMormon has misled the membership of the Church is abundant. I’ll share another example at the end of this post. I’m sure if you ask around, you’ll quickly find people whose faith in Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young and others has been diminished because of what FairMormon teaches.

I’ve even had investigators print off some of the FairMormon and FARMS nonsense and ask me to explain it.

For that matter, FairMormon is diminishing faith in the Book of Mormon itself by rationalizing that Mormon was exaggerating, that some of the words Joseph used in the translation were wrong, etc.
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It’s not only Letter VII that they actively oppose, as you know if you’ve been reading their web page along with this and other blogs. But I focus on Letter VII because it is a simple binary choice.

You either accept and believe Letter VII or you reject and disbelieve it.

Simple.

Well, it’s simple if you accept it. Then everything else in Church history and the scriptures makes sense and is consistent with what Joseph and Oliver taught..

But if you reject what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, it’s not so simple.

Let me qualify that. Our LDS scholars and educators think it’s simple as this cartoon illustrates:

BYU professor reacts to Letter VII – h/t to Scott Adams

There is a lot packed into the claim that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

Below is a partial list of what you have to also believe if you reject Letter VII. 

This same list is what BYU and Institute and Seminary students will be taught from now on (unless something changes):

1. Our modern LDS scholars and educators know more about the Hill Cumorah than Joseph and Oliver did.

Think about that one a moment before moving on.

2. As Assistant President of the Church, Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

3. Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition about Cumorah and spread it throughout the Church.

4. Joseph told his scribes to copy a false history about Cumorah into his (Joseph’s) personal history, and now this false history is in the Joseph Smith papers for the entire world to read.
5. Joseph told his brother Don Carlos to publish a false tradition about Cumorah in the Times and Seasons, passing it as a fact.
6. Joseph’s brother William Smith published a false tradition about Cumorah in New York City two days after Joseph’s martyrdom.

7. David Whitmer was making things up (or confused) when he repeatedly explained that the first time he heard the word “Cumorah” was when he was taking Joseph and Oliver to Fayette and encountered the messenger to whom Joseph had given the plates before leaving Harmony, and who was taking the plates to Cumorah.

8. Brigham Young was either confused, lying or misleading the people when he taught that Oliver and Joseph and others had been inside Mormon’s depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

9. All of Joseph’s contemporaries and successors who corroborated and sustained what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah were wrong, even when they spoke in General Conference.

I could go on, but you get the point.
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To FairMormon and the scholars who contribute material, each of these nine elements are obvious. They’ve talked themselves into these beliefs because each one of the 9 is essential to believing the Mesoamerican setting and the two-Cumorahs theory on which it depends.

IOW, if Joseph and Oliver were correct in Letter VII, then everything these scholars and educators have taught for the last 40+ years about Book of Mormon geography is false.

Hence my illustration above.
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Now, some might think FairMormon’s material is harmless because geography doesn’t matter. The thinking goes like this: So what if investigators, missionaries, and members become confused and disturbed in their faith? They need to get on board with the scholars–the real experts on the scriptures. When the Brethren have questions, they call the BYU professors. Anyone who doesn’t accept the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories is ignorant, if not delusional. FairMormon embraces the idea that what Joseph and Oliver taught is “manifestly absurd.”

In fact, the idea that Cumorah is in New York is not only “manifestly absurd,” it is dangerous and must be suppressed and attacked at every opportunity. Information that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught must be censored, to the extent possible, and suppressed whenever it slips through.

Whatever else happens, we can’t let BYU students, or any CES students for that matter, read and discuss Letter VII, especially not in its historical context and in light of archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc. 

To make sure they never accept what Joseph and Oliver taught, we need to inoculate them with phony “requirements” for Book of Mormon lands, fantasy maps, and a quasi-canonized interpretation of the text that all point to Mesoamerica.
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I hope it’s obvious now that the FairMormon approach directly contradicts the Church’s desire to be more open about its history. And yet, the Mesoamerican proponents still want to make sure that Letter VII is the last “secret” in Church history.
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As I mentioned, there are abundant examples of the way FairMormon and its collaborators have imposed Mesomania on the membership of the Church. Here’s an example from a recent writing (name, identifying terms, and source redacted) that shows the typical mindset of those who refer to FairMormon and believe what they read there. It doesn’t really matter who wrote this particular piece; I’ve received lots of emails and comments along these lines over the years, and I hear these same arguments whenever I talk with a Mesomaniac. I’m only using it here to show that I’m not making this up. FairMormon is causing serious problems for investigators and members of the Church.

Many scholars of the Book of Mormon agree that the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon and that hill in upstate New York are not the same place. 
[This is based on the “Cumorah” entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and the phony plagiarized fax that FairMormon claims came from “the office of the First Presidency” that supposedly endorses the Cumorah entry.] 
Archeological evidence does not support the conclusion that large armies gathered at the place. 
[This is based on a series of phony “requirements” for Cumorah that directly contradict what Letter VII (and the Book of Mormon itself) says about the numbers of people involved with these battles.]
Also… historical documents from Joseph Smith’s time suggest that the association of the hill in upstate New York did not come until after several years after the Book of Mormon was published.
[This is all taken from FairMormon, which you can see here: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/New_World/Hill_Cumorah.] 
The Prophet himself never said that the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon was the same place where he found the plates and it seems that Oliver Cowdey and David Whitmer were responsible for the association. 
[Joseph actually wrote very little; he normally deferred to others for writing. In this case, though, he helped Oliver write the historical letters, including Letter VII; he had his scribes copy them into his own history; he made sure they were reprinted for every Church member to read; and the New York Cumorah was accepted by all of his contemporaries and successors. We would expect Oliver to associate the discovery of the plates (which he also described in more detail than Joseph ever did) with Mormon’s depository because he actually visited the depository with Joseph on multiple occasions. We also expect David to know about Cumorah because of how he first heard the term and because of his experience with the other plates and artifacts.]
It is true that for many years members of the church thought the hills were the same, but modern scholarship does not maintain that position.
[Exactly. Members thought this “for many years” because Letter VII was ubiquitous, at Joseph’s own direction. Only after the RLDS scholars began their limited Mesoamerican theory, and LDS scholars embraced it over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith, did Letter VII become censored by LDS scholars. 

On one hand, Joseph, Oliver, and all of their associates and successors taught that Cumorah was in New York. On the other, “modern scholarship” that relies on circular reasoning based on concocted “requirements” designed to support the Mesoamerican theory teaches that Cumorah is in Mexico.]
Finally, the text of the Book of Mormon itself suggests that the Nephite and Lamanite nations were not large civilizations that spanned both North and South America. Rather a close reading of the text indicates small regional populations interacting with each other. The Book of Mormon peoples were just some of many tribes and peoples found throughout the Americas. With this in mind, interpretations of the texts that incorporate large portions of North America becomes hard to support.
[This isn’t unreasonable, but it’s irrelevant to the question of Cumorah in New York.]
The reason I mention these is because the scenarios you have presented to me rely on interpretations of the Book of Mormon that assume that Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in New York. That is a position that I do not hold. 
[The writer outright rejects Letter VII, but probably without having ever read Letter VII because FairMormon doesn’t make it available to readers (unless they know where to find it in the Messenger and Advocate archive.) Certainly FairMormon will never explain how often Joseph endorsed Letter VII.]
Also, it assumes the entire North American continent as the stage for the Book of Mormon events. 
[A typical straw man argument. You either hear this or you hear that “you think everything took place around the Great Lakes,” which is equally false, of course.]
That is also a position I do not hold. 
[I don’t know anyone who does. It’s pure straw man, easily dismissed.]
… the approach [Letter VII] is fundamentally different than one I would make. 
[This is the key. Some people start with what Joseph and Oliver taught and see if the text and relevant sciences corroborate and support what they said. I think the text and science fully corroborate what they taught. Others start with what they think the text says (based on the Sorenson/FairMormon translation) and then conclude that Joseph and Oliver were wrong. These are two opposite approaches, for sure.]
If you are interested in utilizing the sorts of approaches I have tried to describe here, I can introduce you to some of the scholarship that has shaped my thinking. 
[Exactly! FairMormon’s “scholarship” is “shaping” the thinking of thousands of LDS people, missionaries, investigators, students, youth, and even children. They are imposing Mesomania everywhere and the result is what we see in this piece.]
[The] URL at the bottom [goes] to a web page that gives scholarly summations of several of the issues…. This page is maintained and written by faithful members and can be trusted in to that extent.
[Now we get to the good part: a citation to FairMormon, the source of the Mesomania dogma. Notice the comment that because the page “is maintained and written by faithful members” we should trust it. 

That gets back to my original point. Despite the implications of this claim, faith and dedication have nothing to do with this issue. People on all sides of this issue are faithful and dedicated. It’s a question of whether one accepts Letter VII or Mesomania and all the implications that flow from that choice.   

Here’s the referenced URL: 


https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/New_World/Hill_Cumorah]

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

More of the original manuscript found

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Here’s an awesome article on the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865687831/LDS-Church-History-Department-announces-newly-found-fragment-of-original-Book-of-Mormon-manuscript.html

Neilson commented, “When I see fragments of the original Book of Mormon manuscript, I’m reminded that it takes heavenly help and mortal messengers to bring the divine down to earth. This is a collaborative effort … in this case a collaboration between an angel and a fairly young man. It’s a reminder of the marvel that so many early Latter-day Saints discovered and celebrated, that the divine still is present in our lives. … It’s the intersection of the sacred and the profane, the worldly and the spiritual, the divine and the human.”

Source: Book of Mormon Wars