long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

BMAF questions #2 and #1

The President of BMAF raised some questions recently on this blog. I compiled them as 5 main points and so far I've addressed #s 5, 4, and 3 (summaries of my responses below).

The statements I make on this blog reflect my thesis that the Book of Mormon has nothing to do with Mesoamerica. Feel free to agree or disagree.

As always, I seek a civil, cordial and collegial dialog, but I also focus on specifics. Here, I'm merely replying to BMAF.

Here are the five points:

1. The appeal to the authority of the "scholarly consensus."
2. The DNA article on lds.org.
3. The claim that Joseph Smith said Zion was all of North and South America and that he was referring to the two continents. My response: It is unclear whether Joseph referred to "North and South America" before Winchester wrote about Isaiah 18:1 (comparing North and South America to wings), an idea Hyrum Smith picked up repeated, from whom others have since drawn. The 1853 account by Martha Coray, purporting to be notes on an otherwise unknown sermon by Joseph Smith from 1840, has Joseph focusing on the American government, not other continents. 
4. The claim that there is evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. My response: the evidence in Mesoamerica consists of "correspondences" that I consider illusory because they are found in most human cultures. I'm not aware of any non-LDS archaeologists or other experts or historians or even early explorers who agree there is evidence of Hebrew culture in Mesoamerica. The anthropology, botany, geology, geography, writing systems, DNA, and other factors in Mesoamerica contradict the information provided by the Book of Mormon.
5. The claim that Heartlanders are "discouraged" from reading scholarly material from the citation cartel "BYU, FARMS, BofM Central, BMAF and many more." [From now on, instead of using the term "citation cartel," I'll list the publications as BMAF does]. My response: I encourage everyone to read as much of this material as possible. Far from being discouraged from reading it, I have addressed this scholarly material in over 200 posts on this blog alone. These publications provide an abundant supply of material for me to analyze and comment on, but I've reached the point of diminishing returns with it. The material I haven't already addressed is repetitive and derivative. I'm more than ready to address any questions/issues BMAF thinks I've overlooked.

Today I'll address questions #2 and #1.

Question 2: The DNA article on lds.org. 

This unsigned essay is well written and I agree with the conclusion that DNA evidence can neither prove or disprove the Book of Mormon. On that point, the essay is excellent and useful and should be widely known in the Church.

However, as I point out in the answer to question #1 below, the essay is being misused. I keep hearing and reading arguments for the Mesoamerican setting that cite the DNA essay as evidence the Church endorses the Mesoamerican setting because the scholars cited in the essay promote the Mesoamerican setting.

Here's how that happens, and there is an easy fix (if anyone at the Church is paying attention).

The essay includes footnotes that are problematic because they all assume a Mesoamerican setting. I think the essay would be stronger--and definitely more consistent with the Church's policy of neutrality--without the Mesoamerican footnotes.

Footnote 6 refers to Mormon's Codex, the book that infamously ridicules members of the Church who accept what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII. The note also cites a John Sorenson article that claims it is "inescapable that there were substantial populations in the ‘promised land’ throughout the period of the Nephite record," a reasonable claim. But the examples it cites are all in Mesoamerica.

Footnote 8 cites "Facts Are Stubborn Things," an anonymous article from the Times and Seasons, observing "This article is unattributed but was published under Joseph Smith’s editorship." But the text of the article does attribute the article: "Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon." Because I think the evidence shows Joseph had nothing to do with the article (or even the newspaper, especially in Sept. 1842), the attribution to Joseph, IMO, is not substantiated and should not be made.

Footnote 9 cites an article from FARMS Review that I've analyzed before. Basically, the two-Cumorah Mesoamerican theory requires LDS scholars to question the accuracy of D&C 28, 30 and 32, as well as Joseph Smith's statements about the Indians "in this country."

So the quick fix is, delete citations to any scholar who exclusively promotes a Mesoamerican setting and just explain the valid arguments directly.

Others have pointed out that the DNA article is the first time Darwinian evolution has been endorsed by the Church. I don't see anything overt on that topic in the article, but it is implicit in the cited references.

Question 1: The appeal to the authority of the "scholarly consensus."

I don't fault BMAF for its appeal to authority. You almost have to appeal to authority in an age when knowledge is so specialized. The question is whether this is a logical fallacy or merely a shortcut.

The Maxwell Institute noted the publication of the Church's essay here. It's understandable that MI would tout citations to its authors; I have no problem with that. But as I said above, I think it's a mistake to cite these particular articles in the DNA essay because of their content (unqualified promotion of Mesoamerica and denigration of those who accept the New York Cumorah), and it is a logical error for BMAF and others to cite the article on lds.org as evidence that the Mesoamerican position is correct.

At the risk of repetition, IMO, the citations violate the Church's neutrality policy. The valid points in the citations could have been made without implicating the Mesoamerican geography or ridiculing the New York Cumorah. I don't know whether any of this was considered when the essays were published on lds.org, but I doubt Church authorities intended that the DNA article would be cited as Church endorsement of the Mesoamerican model, which is how BMAF and others have cited it. I've been told even CES is citing it for this purpose, which I hope is merely anecdotal incidents from rogue instructors.

As readers of this blog know, my views don't track the "scholarly consensus" about the setting of the Book of Mormon. Although I accepted that consensus for decades, once I looked into it and read the material more carefully, it became apparent that the consensus is based on bias confirmation; i.e., people thought Joseph wrote the anonymous Times and Seasons articles and so they set off to vindicate what they thought Joseph wrote. An entire infrastructure of "scholarly consensus" has built up around that premise, to the point it has taken on a life of its own. 

I think the premise was false, and that's why the infrastructure doesn't withstand scrutiny. It's not that the scholarly work was "bad" in any sense; it's just that it was seeking to prove a faulty hypothesis because Joseph Smith didn't write or approve of the articles. 

Without the Times and Seasons articles, why would anyone have looked at Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon? 

On top of that, to sustain the Mesoamerican setting, LDS scholars have had to undermine Oliver Cowdery's credibility and reliability, both for Letter VII and the room in the Hill Cumorah. They have also had to undermine David Whitmer's credibility and reliability. And they have had to cast doubt on Joseph Smith, who endorsed Letter VII multiple times. And they have had to cast doubt on Brigham Young's account of the room in the hill, which he said others in addition to Oliver had described. It goes on and on, and it's all because of anonymous articles that I think were written by Benjamin Winchester and published by William Smith.

For these and the other reasons set out in this blog, I don't defer to the scholarly consensus, but I do understand why BMAF does.

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