Facts, reason, filters and BYU’s "abstract map"

A lot of people are frustrated that our LDS intellectuals don’t respond to facts and reason when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon historicity/geography. But the intellectuals think they developed their theories by a rigorous academic process based on facts and reason.

Why the disconnect?

We need to recognize that most people don’t base their opinions on facts and reason, and don’t respond to facts and reason that contradicts their opinions. We only think we do, but we’re mostly engaged in confirming our biases. And our biases are imprinted by people we trust. Once imprinted, we see everything through bias-confirming filters.

That’s how we end up in a world in which so many people disagree so fervently even when they think they’re looking at the same facts and applying sound logic and reason.

Scott Adams explains this in his typically succinct and insightful manner:

Arguing On Twitter With Facts - Dilbert by Scott Adams

If you think your opinions are based on facts and logic, but you still agree with everything you’ve been taught, you might want to take another look. Other people, applying different filters, will look at the same facts and logic and reach different conclusions.

NOTE: This analysis omits the element of personal experience, which in the Church context includes our personal witness and testimony of the truths of the Gospel. Plus, in the gospel setting, we do (or should) defer to the prophets and apostles as we “give heed unto the words of these twelve” (3 Nephi 12:1). The words of the prophets and apostles will give us reliable filters through which we can understand and interpret the world accurately.

The problem is, many of us give heed unto the words of the LDS (and non-LDS) intellectuals instead.
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I know this from personal experience. For over 30 years, I was fully invested in the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory I had been taught at BYU. I deferred to people I considered faithful experts.

It was only when I realized my professors had a specific agenda to promote their theory–to the point of suppressing contradictory information and rejecting the words of the prophets and apostles–that I realized the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was constructed on a false premise. Actually, several false premises.

Now, after years of Church service and missionary work, I can see how subversive this theory really is. (People want me to avoid using loaded terms such as subversive, but I can’t think of a more accurate term. I’m open to suggestions.)

These trusted professors are still teaching students to reject the words of the prophets and apostles whenever they disagree with the conclusions of the intellectuals at BYU.

If you’ve read FARMS, FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc., you know who I’m talking about.

The same people run BMAF.org, Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon and other web pages.
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Their influence is pervasive. Think about this:

There are 33,363 students at BYU (https://news.byu.edu/about). (Somehow, only 5,127 are first-year students, but of course everyone was once a first-year student.) There are around 370,000 living graduates from BYU. There are far more graduates from CES.

Every one of these BYU/CES students has been taught the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, either explicitly (as I was taught) or implicitly.

Most full-time Church staff are BYU graduates, including people working in the committees and departments that handle media, curriculum, Church History, missionary, scriptures and other areas, as well as CES, Public Affairs, etc. If they didn’t graduate from BYU, they went through a CES program.

Consequently, the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory has been institutionalized as a common understanding. BYU and CES graduates view facts and logic through the filters imprinted by the faculty, particularly the Religious Education faculty.

Does these faculty members teach students that Cumorah is in New York?

No.

Instead, they teach new students that Cumorah is either (i) in Mesoamerica or (ii) in a fantasy land designed to look like Mesoamerica (see http://bom.byu.edu/).*

This means they are teaching their students that Joseph and Oliver and all their contemporaries and successors, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were wrong when they taught that Cumorah was in New York.

Why were they wrong?

Because these modern prophets and apostles disagreed with the theories developed by the intellectuals at BYU.
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The filters created by the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory are powerful because of the implied endorsement of Church leaders. After all, these students are attending Church-sponsored BYU/CES.

However, it is the promoters of this theory, not any Church leaders, who are responsible for creating these filters. 

Because everyone involved graduated from BYU/CES, the filters are reinforced not only in the publications and web pages I listed above, but in media, visitors centers, lesson manuals, art, and even in the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon itself. (See examples here:
http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/12/yes-they-do-teach-two-cumorahs-theory.html)

In my opinion, it is the intellectuals who caused this problem by refusing to heed the words of the prophets and apostles. 

Now, it is up to the intellectuals to solve the problem by teaching their students to heed the words of the prophets and apostles instead of rejecting them.
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*The developers of the fantasy map recognize they are creating a specific filter, so they include this disclaimer:

“The Church and BYU stay neutral in questions of exactly where the Book of Mormon took place. The Lord could have removed all questions regarding the exact locations of these events but he did not. For that reason, our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible. These are artistic renditions.” (http://bom.byu.edu/)

I’ll deconstruct this disclaimer with my comments in red.

The Church and BYU stay neutral in questions of exactly where the Book of Mormon took place. 

1. This is a straw man fallacy because the issue is the location of Cumorah, not the broader question of “exactly where the Book of Mormon took place.” Since at least 1835, Church leaders have been explicit and united in teaching that Cumorah is in New York. The intellectuals have sown confusion because they convinced themselves that the Book of Mormon describes volcanoes, which don’t exist in New York, but Church leaders have never varied from the New York Cumorah. When members of the First Presidency specifically speak on a topic in General Conference, they are not being “neutral” on that topic. 

2. The location of Cumorah does not determine “exactly where the Book of Mormon took place.” That broader topic remains open for discussion and study and further revelation. But the location of Cumorah is, or should be, unequivocal if we heed the words of the prophets and apostles. When Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, he was the ordained Assistant President of the Church. On that basis alone, we should heed his words. Plus, Joseph Smith assisted in writing the letters and endorsed them on multiple occasions. But Oliver was also qualified by personal experience, having been one of the men who actually visited Mormon’s depository in the New York hill he identified as Cumorah. All subsequent prophets and apostles who have addressed the topic have officially affirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

3. This “neutrality” argument is a euphemism for giving the intellectuals an excuse to promote their own agenda and to teach students not to heed the words of the prophets and apostles when they disagree with what the intellectuals think.

4. Despite this lip service, BYU is hardly neutral. For decades, the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was publicly and widely promoted at BYU (and in CES). BYU publications, including BYU Studies, continue to promote the theory to this day. This very map is based on the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs interpretation of the text, and it explicitly shows Cumorah not in New York! That’s not neutrality. That’s taking a specific position.

5. Even if BYU intellectuals suddenly became actually neutral, proclaiming neutrality is a transparent ruse unless the institution or people claiming neutrality either (i) reject past positions that have become the “consensus” or at least (ii) give an equal voice to alternatives. To date, the intellectuals at BYU have done neither. 

6. The version of “neutrality” expressed in this disclaimer is like the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s that prevented the U.S. from taking sides as Nazi Germany invaded other countries and seized their land.

Actually, it’s more like the way the Soviet Union was “neutral” after the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe after World War II. Once they took the territory, the Soviets were happy with the status quo and were “neutral” on further border changes.

Enshrining a favorable status quo by proclaiming “neutrality” after the invasion or domination is a favorite tactic of totalitarians. I don’t think is an appropriate tactic for BYU to engage in. 

The Lord could have removed all questions regarding the exact locations of these events but he did not.

Another straw man fallacy. We’re not talking about “all questions regarding the exact locations.” We’re talking about one specific location: Cumorah in New York. The intellectuals at BYU use this straw man argument because they don’t want parents (and donors) to realize that they teach their students that Joseph, Oliver and all their contemporaries and successors were wrong.

For that reason, our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible. 

Here is the filter. The intellectuals use the term “neutral” because it has a connotation of “unbiased,” but this “internal map” is based on the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon, adjusted 90 degrees so it goes north/south instead of using Sorenson’s “west means coastline” theory. 

This “internal map” is nothing more than the “consensus” interpretation of the intellectuals who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. 

These intellectuals are communicating the message that the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory matches “the text as closely as possible,” meaning other interpretations do not follow the text, or do not follow it closely. 

Yet they continue to refuse to show students alternative interpretations of the text (especially not those that follow the text more closely).

And they continue to refuse to teach students what the prophets and apostles have said on the topic of Cumorah in New York.

This is the antithesis of neutrality, and everyone knows it.

These are artistic renditions.

These “artistic renditions” are specific teachings that Cumorah is not in New York, which means the prophets and apostles are wrong.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

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