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

What neutrality means to FairMormon

In my opinion, FairMormon's approach to Book of Mormon geography is so far beyond the pale that it does not deserve to remain above scrutiny.

FairMormon expresses its policy this way (emphasis mine throughout): "The Church has been neutral when it comes to issues relating to Book of Mormon geography, as is FairMormonThe articles linked below will describe the various theories and examine the strengths and weaknesses of each."

Let's explore that a little. You'll see from this analysis that to FairMormon, neutrality has two components:

1. Unmitigated support for the Mesoamerican model, examining the strengths.
2. Unmitigated opposition to every other model, examining the weaknesses.

It's possible that the FairMormon policy statement was aspirational and they just ran out of time/resources to fulfill the vision. But when you look at how much effort they devoted to attack the non-Mesoamerican models, it's difficult to believe FairMormon ran out of time/resources before making even a token effort to fulfill the stated objective of neutrality.

In a word, FairMormon's concept of neutrality contradicts the ordinary definition of the term.

That's why I recommend people attend their conference. You'll see this for yourself.

Let me be clear again. I'm not writing this blog to attack anyone. I'm writing it to expose the mindset of the prevailing scholarly approach to the Book of Mormon. Everyone associated with FairMormon thinks it is neutral to support Mesoamerica and oppose every alternative. Look at the list of authors here. If any of them disagree with the FairMormon approach--which, after all, has been going on for many years--they have yet to express their disagreement. Worse, they have continued their affiliation with FairMormon.

First, there's a page dedicated to answering the question, "How should a valid Book of Mormon geography be modeled?"

The narrative represents that Joseph embraced a hemispheric model. It then lists "Ten essential features of geography" that "the Book of Mormon text requires for its geography." You can read them and quickly observe these "requirements" are designed to describe Central America. They are not "required" by the text. Inexplicably, a computer analysis that lacks any data, assumptions, or explanation of software is inserted. Then there is an article by Clark that first requires a geography to fit the facts, but then relies on "details which allow us to make a strong inference of either distance or direction."

Second, look at the list of geographies about which FairMormon claims to be neutral:

  • ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Hemispheric geography theory (HGT)
    Brief Summary: The Hemispheric Geography Theory (or HGT) is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. It postulates that the events in the book took place over North and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the narrow neck of land. (Click here for full article)
Note: this one includes an advantages/disadvantages section.
  • ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Limited geography theory (LGT)
    Brief Summary: The Limited Geography Theory (or LGT) is a non-traditional interpretation of the text, but one that has gained wide acceptance among the Book of Mormon scholars and readers over the last 60 years. It is based on a close reading of the text, which indicates that the lands inhabited by the Lehites could be traversed on foot in only a few weeks, making the area no larger than present-day California. (Click here for full article)
Note: the links under this section go to four categories. The first one, a link on the Mesoamerica model, includes two favorable articles on the Mesoamerican model (including a claim that the text describes volcanoes), but no disadvantages section. 

The next lists the "Great Lakes geography" with exclusively negative comments and no advantages section. in fact, it introduces these models with this statement, in bold: "Unfortunately, the geographical details of the Book of Mormon do not fit terribly well in models presented thus far." The section then offers more detailed criticism under the heading, "Best articles to read next."   

The third link covers the Heartland model. This is the longest page in the series, and is uniformly negative. My favorite part is when they cite articles critical of the Heartland model and then write "FAIR endorses no Book of Mormon geography, and does not necessarily endorse all the conclusions in this off-site link. It is provided to properly credit the source." 

The fourth link addresses the Holley map based on place names in the New York area. It is uniformly negative.

The fifth link appears to be a duplicate of the 4th link on the Holley map.

  • ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Location of the Hill Cumorah
    Brief Summary: If Mormon chapter 6 is a literal description of the destruction of the Nephites by the Lamanites — approximately 100 thousand were killed by swords and axes — why hasn't any evidence of the battle been found at the site that was traditionally identified as the hill Cumorah in western New York state? (Click here for full article)
Note: this link establishes Mesoamerican-driven requirements onto the text, doesn't even mention Letter VII, and discounts Joseph Fielding Smith's clear statement with 50-year-old hearsay, as I've mentioned before. It also repeats Dr. Clark's comments which I've addressed before on this blog.
  • ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Great Lakes geography
    Brief Summary: I've heard some members claim that the Book of Mormon fits best in a geography located around the Great Lakes, between the United States and Canada. What can you tell me about this geographic model? (Click here for full article)
This is a duplicate of the link to Great Lakes geography listed above.


To summarize, FairMormon remains a serious problem for those interested in Book of Mormon historicity and geography. I never refer people to the site because of this.

1 comment:

  1. FairMormon's work in a few areas is ... disappointing. Especially its utter lack of critical thinking in its acceptance of spurious "scholarship" (Mainfort and Kwas), which it would breezily dismiss if the challenged artifact (in this case the Bat Creek inscription) could be connected to their pet theory. McCulloch, who at least they cite in a footnote (albeit with the gratuitous slight), did a serviceable job demolishing Mainfort and Kwas's supposed silver bullet -- the Masonic text which, on further examination, is dissimilar in every way that matters for the Bat Creek inscription to be authentic.

    Granted, McCulloch's theory (Cyrus Gordon's theory, really), that the Bat Creek inscription may have come from a group of Hebrew refugees sometime around 100 A.D., was also not without its problems -- as Frank Moore Cross pointed out, the inscription's (genuine) Paleo-Hebrew script is much older than 100 A.D. The script (though not the inscription) dates between the 10th century, B.C., down to about 135 B.C. at the latest.

    But wouldn't we expect that genuine Hebrew script, if it related to the Nephites in the Americas, would be older than that used in Israel circa 100 A.D.? Wouldn't we expect the Hebrew script to be that used before the Babylonian exile? (Which, fwiw, Paleo-Hebrew is.) Just because the stone was buried around 100 A.D. does not mean that the people who did the burying came to America in 100 A.D. There could have been a long-established population of Hebrew-writing people living in the area. Which, I believe, is what the Book of Mormon postulates.

    Frankly, the Bat Creek inscription is good evidence supporting the historicity of the Book of Mormon. And I can't help but wonder if the only reason Fair challenges it, rather than aiding its defense, is due to some fear that its acceptance would be better evidence for a rival geographic theory than the one they uncritically accept.