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, August 31, 2017

The Unbelievers at FairMormon

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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: 


More of the original manuscript found

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


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.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Sometimes people ask about statistics; i.e., how many people read my blogs.

So far, I've had about 200,000 page views, not counting people who read the blogs on http://www.moronisamerica.com/moronis-america-blog/, which aggregates them (but doesn't update them when I make changes on this blog), or people who read posts and comments on other web pages or Facebook and other social media.

The biggest audience is from the United States, with other countries in descending order:

United States
United Kingdom

Some posts are more popular in some countries than others. I think the "translate" button has helped a lot. I also think the Russian government's position on LDS volunteers generated publicity that drove traffic to google, from where it came to my blogs.

Google and Facebook are the main traffic sources, apart from subscribers and shared links.

Readership continues to expand. If you like a particular post, feel free to share it by email, Facebook, Twitter or whatever.

As always, I invite readers to make suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. I often make corrections to my posts, even old ones, to make them as accurate as possible. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Brigham Young-140th anniversary of his death

Brigham Young died on August 29, 1877, 140 years ago today.

I hope that on this day, when we commemorate Brigham Young's death, we take another look at something important he taught just two months before he died because he feared it would be forgotten and lost.

I'm writing this post because if our BYU scholars have their way, this will be forgotten and lost to future generations.

Brigham Young spent the last year of his life in a remarkable effort to organize and clarify the temple ordinances and to reorganize the Priesthood.

An excellent article titled "The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young's Last Achievement" starts off by observing this: "Death knocking loudly at his door, President Brigham Young labored restlessly in his last five months of life to reorganize the Church's government structures."

"Brigham's failing health by 1877 made needed priesthood reorderings urgent. That April he confessed, 'I feel many times that I could not live an hour longer.' Knowing the twelve would succeed him, he became very anxious to put the church in excellent order organizationally for them."

In January, Brigham Young was in St. George to work at the temple (which he dedicated four months later on April 6, 1877). On January 9, 1877, baptisms for the dead were performed in a temple for the first time since Nauvoo. On January 11, the first proxy endowments for the dead were performed and children were sealed to couples for the first time. These ordinances had not been performed previously any time in this dispensation.

Often, Brigham was so weak he often had to be carried through the temple.

He commissioned Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon to write down the temple ceremonies for he first time. This was done between April and June 1877.

Next, he reorganized the Priesthood by establishing 7 new stakes. Prior to 1877, there were only 13 stakes in the Church, and six of the Twelve served as Stake Presidents. The Salt Lake Stake presidency and high council presided over other stakes and had 20,000 members with 45 wards. There were Stake Presidents and Bishops who didn't have counselors, wards without Bishops, and the Priesthood quorums were disorganized.

In 1877, new stake presidencies were called; of sixty presidency members, 53 were new. 140 new wards were established, 100 new Bishops called, and 85 acting bishops were made Bishops.

The article explains: "the 1877 reordering was the single most important priesthood analysis and redirecting since the priesthood restorations of forty eight years earlier."

In addition to organizing the Temple and Priesthood, Brigham Young taught essential principles that remain relevant today. In his final sermon on August 19, 1877, he focused on the Sacrament, just as our current leaders have been doing.

"Previous to attending to the business to be presented to the congregation this afternoon, I feel to exhort the Latter-day Saints before me to try to realize the sacredness of the ordinance that is now being administered to them, which was introduced by our Savior, that his disciples might witness to the Father that they were truly his followers."

In June, he told the Saints something that he was concerned would be lost and forgotten after he died. "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."

What was this important topic?

It had to do with the Hill Cumorah.

Just two months before he died, in the midst of reorganizing the Priesthood and setting in order the Temple ordinances, Brigham Young felt compelled to emphasize the reality of the Hill Cumorah by explaining that Joseph and Oliver and others actually entered Mormon's depository. Starting on page 38, here, he said:

"I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family.

Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”

I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it just as well as we understand coming to this meeting, enjoying the day, and by and by we separate and go away, forgetting most of what is said, but remembering some things. So is it with other circumstances in life. I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost. Carlos Smith was a young man of as much veracity as any young man we had, and he was a witness to these things. Samuel Smith saw some things, Hyrum saw a good many things, but Joseph was the leader.

Now, you may think I am unwise in publicly telling these things, thinking perhaps I should preserve them in my own breast; but such is not my mind. I would like the people called Latter-day Saints to understand some little things with regard to the workings and dealings of the Lord with his people here upon the earth."

Brigham Young emphasized how important it was to understand Cumorah. He prefaced his remarks by explaining these events took place right there in New York, where he lived.

But because of Mesomania, many LDS scholars and educators claim this was merely a "vision" of a hill in Mexico.

You may think I'm kidding, and I wish I was, but look at what FairMormon says about this:

My favorite part of FairMormon's answer is this. "If, therefore, the story attributed to Oliver Cowdery (by others) is true, then the visits to the cave perhaps represent visions, perhaps of some far distant hill, not physical events."

FairMormon and the Conclave generally excel in casting doubt on the Three Witnesses and their contemporaries, including Joseph Smith. You can see how readily and easily they say "If this story is true..." Then, after Brigham Young introduced this account by explaining how he lived in this area of New York, FairMormon says Brigham was either lying or telling about a vision of a hill in Mexico.

Now you see why I deplore FairMormon's Mesomania and why I hope people don't go to this site for answers about Cumorah, Book of Mormon geography, and Church history.

Obviously, if Mormon's depository was in the New York hill, the entire premise for the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories is false.

Our Mesomania scholars desperately try to explain away what Brigham Young said shortly before he died. They try to explain away what David Whitmer said. They try to explain away what Oliver and Joseph wrote in Letter VII.

As I wrote at the outset, I hope that on this day, when we commemorate Brigham Young's death, we take another look at what he feared would be forgotten and lost.

Because if our BYU scholars have their way, it will be forgotten and lost to future generations.

Brigham Young's final sermons:

June 17, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered at a Special Conference Held at Farmington, for the Purpose of Organizing a Stake of Zion for the County of Davis, on Sunday Afternoon, June 17, 1877
Trying to Be Saints—Treasures of the Everlasting Hills—The Hill Cumorah—Obedience to True Principle the Key to Knowledge—All Enjoyment Comes From God—Organization—Duties of Officers—Final Results

July 19, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle, Ogden, at a Meeting of the Relief Societies of Weber County, July 19, 1877.
Relief Societies—Talk to Mothers—Improvement Societies—Domestic Matters—Training Children—Home Production—Silk Interests

July 24, 1877 - Address by President Brigham Young, delivered to the Sunday School Children, in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City
Items of History—The Pioneers—Talking to the Children—Peace in Utah—God a Personage of Tabernacle—The Foolish Fashions

August 19, 1877 - Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered at a Special Conference Held in Brigham City, Box Elder County, for the Purpose of Organizing a Stake of Zion in Said County, on Sunday Afternoon, August 19, 1877.
The Lord's Supper—a Word to Mothers—The Sacrament in Sabbath Schools—History of Some Things—Young Men to Preside—Home Manufactures

August 29, 1877 - Died in Salt Lake City

Monday, August 28, 2017

Followup on Elder Holland's talk

I'm hearing people say that because "the Brethren have endorsed" Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), FairMormon, and the rest, my comments about what these groups teach are unfounded.

Members of these groups have been trying to transform this so-called "endorsement" of their web pages into official endorsement of their rejection of Letter VII and their promotion of the two-Cumorahs theory.

Plus, the usual suspects are using Elder Holland's talk at the Chiasmus Jubilee, in which he appropriately appreciated and applauded the exceptional work done by so many LDS scholars, as an endorsement of their entire body of work, which he never said.

Instead, in my view, he encouraged the scholars to accept what the Book of Mormon witnesses taught. Of course, Joseph and Oliver, corroborated by David Whitmer, taught that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, but Elder Holland's audience that night was made up mostly of people who have rejected that teaching.

I have two points about the so-called "endorsement" of the web pages of the Conclave.*

First, the Church web page that supposedly "endorses" these groups specifically disclaims any endorsement. They are marked with **. The caption at the beginning of the link says this:

"Double-starred websites (**) are maintained by a third party that is unaffiliated with the Church. By linking to this content The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse the content of these sites."

Second, 90% of what BOMC, FairMormon, the Interpreter, and the rest of the Conclave do is great. BOMC's Royal Skousen material alone makes it a valuable resource. FairMormon has accumulated some excellent references on many issues. Even the Interpreter publishes some worthwhile material. I refer to these web pages all the time. In that sense, I actually endorse them, as I've made plain on my blogs and in my books.

But I don't endorse everything on their page. As I've explained, I deplore some of their material, and I've tried to work with each of them to introduce another way of looking at the evidence, to no avail with one exception.

To its credit, BOMC still has the first edition of my Letter VII book in their archive, as well as early drafts of two of my other articles about Church history. So far, BOMC is the only member of the Conclave to publish Letter VII (although FairMormon has a link to the entire Messenger and Advocate, which of course contains Letter VII.)

True, it would be awesome if BOMC followed Church policy on neutrality on questions of Book of Mormon geography, but they refuse to do so because they don't want members of the Church to compare the Mesoamerican theory to Moroni's America or the Heartland setting.

They know, as we all do, that few Church members would reject Letter VII if they knew about it, especially when the only reason to reject Letter VII is academic pride in Groupthink about Mesoamerica.

(For that matter, it would be awesome if BOMC allowed me to respond to my critics that they welcome in their archive, but they don't, again because they don't want members of the Church to know there are alternatives to the Groupthink of the Conclave. That's why I continue to blog about this stuff, actually.)

Readers of this blog know what's going on. Mesomania rules in the Conclave, and there's no reason to be frustrated about it.

Besides, I think by now everyone realizes that when it comes to Church history and Book of Mormon geography, BOMC is really Book of Mormon Central America. They don't even make a pretense of being otherwise now that they're part of BMAF, whose mission statement is "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex."

[Trigger alert for any Mesoamerican promoters reading this post. Don't read further if metaphors cause you distress.]

When you read the web pages of the Conclave, it is mainly the Mesomania in 10% of their material (Church history and BofM geography) that is rotten. That rotten core taints the rest because people trust the rest, and they transfer that trust to the rotten Mesomania stuff.

Fortunately, their Mesomania is transparent. The tragedy is, their Mesomania is impairing the credibility of the other material on their web pages, much of which is great, as I've said.

More and more people in and out of the Church are seeing that the Conclave is really in a Groupthink loop. 

Until the day comes when they give an equal, fair voice to alternatives to their Mesoamerican Groupthink, or at least acknowledge why faithful members of the Church still trust and believe what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII, no one should be concerned with their claims about being "endorsed by the Brethren."

*The Conclave consists of Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, FARMS, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, BMAF (Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, which owns BOMC), and other groups/publications that reproduce material published from these sources. I used to call them the "citation cartel" because it is a small group of people who work through these organizations and cite one another, but they didn't like the term so I agreed to stop using it. They have called themselves the Conclave, here and here, so I assume that term is acceptable. The Conclave claims their work is peer-reviewed, but I think that really means it is "peer-approved" because they all share the goal "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." This is why they reject Letter VII and all the evidence that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Alarming news from BYU Education Week

I've attended a lot of great classes at Education Week in the last few days, but I need to alert readers to an alarming development.

Now BYU is promoting the fantasy map of the Book of Mormon for Seminary students!

If you go to this link http://virtualscriptures.org/, this is what you will see:

BYU Fantasy Map now to be taught in Seminary
It was bad enough that every BYU student now has to learn the Book of Mormon by following the events in the text on a fantasy land map, but now Seminary students will have to learn this thing. At this rate, it will appear in Primary classes in no time.

The map is being unofficially canonized.

This fantasy map is even worse than the Mesoamerican maps we used to have to learn when I was at BYU. At least those were grounded in the real world.

This development means that LDS youth around the world are going to learn that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

Why do I say that?

Because this map is indoctrinating LDS youth regarding a specific interpretation of the Book of Mormon that not only contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught (more on that later), but that excludes the entire planet from consideration.

Our youth will be taught to interpret the scriptures by reference to this fantasy map. This means future missionaries going to the world, teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in a fantasy world.

Imagine your son or daughter learning this thing. Then they go on a mission. The conversation goes something like this:

Investigator: You say Joseph Smith got these plates from the Hill Cumorah in New York. That's where these people lived?

Missionary: No, we know the real Cumorah can't be in New York, despite what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said, because their statement was never canonized. They were mistaken. It was their opinion, and they were wrong. Our scholars have figured this out.

Investigator: But you said Joseph was a prophet.

Missionary: Yes, we testify of that, but he was wrong about some things, like Cumorah.

Investigator: I see. You told me Lehi left the Middle East and sailed to the New World. Where did he land?

Missionaries teaching fantasy map-
adapted from Preach My Gospel
Missionary (pulling out an iPad with the BYU map on it): Right here, on the west coast.

Investigator: Where is that?

Missionary: The land of first inheritance.

Investigator: No, I mean where in the real world?

Missionary: Oh, this isn't the real world. This is a fantasy map, based on the text.

Investigator: You're saying your Book of Mormon describes a fantasy world? Like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia Chronicles?

Missionary: Yes! Exactly! See how cool it is when you go to a verse and you can see where the event took place? Let's turn to Alma 43 and I'll show you how this little dial works.

Investigator: Uh, I'm sorry Elders (or Sisters), but this doesn't work for me. You testified it was a true history, but now you're saying it took place in a fantasy world?

Missionary 2: No, see, we're saying it's a real history, but the geography it describes doesn't fit anywhere on this Earth. So our scholars made this abstract map so we could understand it and explain it to people who haven't read the Book of Mormon before. You can twist it and squeeze it, pull it and stretch it anyway you want so it works for you.

Investigator: [incredulous and speechless]

In my view, this "abstract" map takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of actual ancient history and plants it firmly on the fiction shelf. Even the BYU professor who presented it at Education Week compared it to the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. You can take university courses on those works of fiction that teach all kinds of moral principles, too.

To be clear, the BYU policy against teaching "any particular geography" puts the professors in a difficult position. That policy was a good way to stop professors from teaching Mesoamerica, but it has a very serious side-effect.

As it is now, the BYU policy itself prevents professors from teaching what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII; i.e., that there is one Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) and it is in New York.

Given this constraint, they've done the best they think they can.

But I question whether the BYU policy really censors Letter VII. After all, Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history, and anyone can read it there in the Joseph Smith papers. Go to http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/ and search for "Letter VII." The first result will take you there.

I think instead that the BYU professors don't teach students about Letter VII because, as one of them has said, they "can't unsee Mesoamerica" when they read the text. They have created this map using the Mesoamerican model and the interpretations that model has imposed on the text, as I'll show below. Now they want their students to become unable to "unsee" this Mesoamerican-inspired "abstract" map.

Think of what a difference it would make if they offered students an "abstract" map that uses an interpretation of the text that supports Joseph and Oliver instead of this one that actually contradicts them.

Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe
In October 1834, the first anti-Mormon book was published in Painesville, Ohio, not far from Kirtland. Written by E.D. Howe, the book was titled Mormonism Unvailed, and it portrayed the Book of Mormon as fiction (claiming it was copied from a romance novel by Solomon Spalding). Even today, critics of the Church make this claim, now called the Spalding theory.

Imagine what Howe would have done if Joseph Smith had produced a fantasy map like this BYU map. It would have been on the frontispiece of Mormonism Unvailed instead of these two illustrations. The idea that the Book of Mormon describes a fantasy land geography is a more devastating attack than the Spalding theory ever was.

When we look at Church history, how did Joseph and Oliver, the President and Assistant President of the Church, respond to Mormonism Unvailed?

They wrote a series of eight historical letters and published them in the Messenger and Advocate. In the first issue, published in October 1834 (the same month as Mormonism Unvailed), Oliver explained that "our opponants [opponents] have cried an alarm, and used every exertion to hinder the spread of truth; but truth has continued its steady course, and the work of the Lord has rolled on."

He introduced the series of historical letters by writing, "we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints...

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

This is a rational and effective response to the allegation in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction. What better way to confront error than with facts?

Among the facts that Oliver and Joseph presented was the detailed explanation that Cumorah was in New York. They explicitly stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph first obtained the plates from Moroni. They said Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill. And they specifically identified it as Cumorah.

But our BYU scholars reject what they wrote, claiming that these were not facts but opinions, and that they were wrong.

The latest objection is that these letters were never canonized. This is a stunning argument. When used as a reason to reject Letter VII, the argument creates a presumption that anything that hasn't been canonized is wrong.

(Obviously, the "uncanonized" argument is not really a reason to reject Letter VII; it's merely a superficial pretext for rejecting Letter VII when the real reason is because a New York Cumorah contradicts the Mesoamerican theory that the fantasy map is based upon.)

If this uncanonized=wrong principle applies to Letter VII, it logically applies to anything that was not canonized.

(Of course, part of Letter I was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price (see the end of Joseph Smith-History here), but our scholars carve that out as an exception. We're supposed to accept that part of Letter I, but we're supposed to disbelieve the rest of Letter I and the rest of these important letters. It's not clear how we're supposed to differentiate between the canonized portions of Letter I and the rest of the letters, but that doesn't really matter because we're not supposed to even know about these letters because they establish Cumorah in New York. Instead, we're supposed to learn the Book of Mormon by using this abstract fantasy map that puts Cumorah anywhere but New York.)

Think of the implications of the canonization argument. If we're supposed to disbelieve anything that wasn't canonized, we must throw out everything we have learned as Church history that's not in Joseph Smith-History. Nothing in the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, has been canonized except the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. For that matter, no General Conference talks have been canonized.

If we're rejecting everything that hasn't been canonized, including what Joseph and Oliver stated were facts in these historical letters, even after Joseph had these facts republished multiple times so all the Saints in his day could learn them, what is left for us to accept?

To be sure, it's not impossible that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken. In my view, short of prophetic guidance to that effect, it would require some overwhelming evidence to demonstrate Joseph and Oliver were wrong because of the implications it would have on everything else they claimed to be true.

So far, the only reason we've been given to reject Letter VII--what Joseph and Oliver claimed was a fact--is that some LDS scholars and educators say they were wrong.

To support their argument, these scholars and educators have concocted a list of "requirements" for Cumorah designed to fit only Mesoamerica. IOW, they have defined Cumorah so that it can't be in New York. It's a patently circular argument.

Today, with this fantasy map, BYU is going the opposite direction from where Joseph and Oliver went when they responded to Mormonism Unvailed and other critics. Instead of using the facts Joseph and Oliver gave us that tie the Book of Mormon to the real world of the New York Cumorah, our BYU scholars are teaching students that the text fits nowhere but on a fantasy map.

It's difficult to think of a more alarming development than this, short of outright proclaiming that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

You might wonder why our LDS scholars are so adamant about rejecting these letters, including Letter VII. The sole reason is their proprietary interest in their Mesoamerican theory, which this abstract map is really teaching. The "abstract map" is a transparent ruse to evade the mandate from BYU administration to avoid teaching any particular geography.

Why do I say it's a ruse? Because all of the interpretations of the text used to develop this map are based on the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon. Even at the Education Week presentation, the presenter explained the River Sidon flows north because the "headwaters" are near Manti. This is a long-held belief among Mesoamerican advocates, but readers of the Book of Mormon know the term "headwaters" never appears in the actual text. It's a Sorenson translation. Same with the hourglass shape of the "narrow neck," the claim that the "wilderness" is a mountain range, etc.

The real tragedy here is that all the computer technology could be used to corroborate and vindicate what Joseph and Oliver taught, instead of undermining their teachings, if our scholars would simply accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote about Cumorah. 

Instead of deferring to Joseph and Oliver, our scholars outright reject what they said was a fact about the New York Cumorah.

Consequently, they insist on teaching our youth a fantasy geography modeled after Central America. At the same time, they insist the youth should not be taught what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

No one attending BYU Education Week this year will learn of the existence of these historical letters, let alone the contents of Letter VII. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Staying on track

At BYU Education Week Tuesday I saw this important quotation about Church history.

“If we are going to stay on the track the Lord put us on, we must know our history.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1978

Readers here know the track the Lord put us on with respect to the Hill Cumorah because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made it as clear as words can be in Letter VII; i.e., there is one Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) and it is in New York. David Whitmer, Brigham Young and others corroborated their teaching.

But because some of our LDS scholars forgot our history, and the rest of us didn't know our history well enough to call them on it, we went off the Cumorah-in-New-York track and slammed into the wall of Cumorah-is-in-Mexico.


That's not the best metaphor here because the train hasn't crashed. It's still moving forward, just on a different track that won't lead us to the destination Joseph and Oliver intended; i.e., the power of a united Church in which everyone supports what Joseph and Oliver taught.

So how do we get back on track?

The first step is recognizing we're off track. And that's not easy, because our scholars and educators have persuaded us the track we're on is good enough, and more importantly, they claim it is verified by scholarly research, which they think is much better than mere prophetic declarations, even when those declarations are based on personal experience the way Letter VII was.

I read something else about tracks recently.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, described corporate culture this way. "Many people use the analogy of a train to describe their companies. When things go wrong, we talk of getting "derailed" and of experiencing a "train wreck." A number of people believe they have the ability to drive the train, thinking that this is a power position... The truth is... driving the train doesn't set its course. The real job is laying the track."

Joseph and Oliver laid the track when they clearly and emphatically and repeatedly taught that there was one Hill Cumorah and it was in New York. 

But some of our LDS scholars decided that track was no good. They managed to lay another track, this one in Mesoamerica with a Mexican Cumorah, and then they managed to switch the train of the Church onto this new track. Many members and leaders didn't know the train jumped the track, but the train wobbles a bit on this new track. It's leading to the destination of confusion, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned when he sought to prevent the two-Cumorahs theory from taking hold..

Getting back on the right track will require us to know our history, as President Hinckley taught.

That's why I encourage every member of the Church to read Letter VII. Every BYU student should know about this important teaching about the New York Cumorah.

It might cause some temporary disruption as we make the jump back to the original track, but it won't cause a crash. It will put us on the track Joseph and Oliver knew was correct, heading to the destination we seek in unity and commitment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

BYU Education Week 2017 Tuesday

BYU Education Week (schedule) offers a tremendous variety of classes. Because many readers live far away and don't have a chance to attend, I'll report on some of the events relevant to this blog.

[Note: I'm going to complete the series on the DNA issue, but Brother Perego is speaking today at Education Week and I'll update my posts based on what he says. You can get a pretty good idea from his topics:
Ugo A. Perego
Genetics, Genealogy, and Gentiles: The Use and Abuse of DNA in Mormon Studies
Ballroom, Wilkinson Student Center (WSC)
Wed- Book of Mormon and DNA Studies: The Genetic History of the New World
Th- Genetic Genealogy: Finding Your Distant and Recent Ancestry through DNA
Fri- Science and Religion: Can They Coexist?]

On Monday, I was observing the total eclipse in Idaho so I missed Ed Week that day. (BTW, if you haven't seen a total eclipse, you need to get ready for 2024 when you can observe it at the real Hill Cumorah.)

On Tuesday, I attended classes on Church history, the geography of Israel, and geography in the scriptures. All were excellent. The one most readers will be interested is described here:

Scriptures Brought to Life through Technology: Free Tools to Breathe New Life into Your Study
Pardoe, Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC)
Tues- Questions of Geography in the Scriptures: Exploring Possible Locations to Enhance and Not Distract from Intended Messages
Wed- Jerusalem in Jesus’ Day: A Virtual, Immersive, 3D Experience
Th- The People, Places, and Plates of the Book of Mormon: A Virtual, Immersive, 3D Experience
Fri- Technology Tools for Unlocking the Words of the Bible

Thursday's presentation will focus on the abstract map I've blogged about several times, such as here and here. As I've explained, I think it's a huge mistake to teach people (not just BYU students but missionaries, investigators, youth, and anyone else) that the best way to understand the Book of Mormon is to put it into the fantasy world depicted by this map. I have three main reasons.

1. The map rejects what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII about Cumorah being in New York. A student attending BYU will never even learn about these important historical letters.
2. The fantasy map removes the text from the real world and puts it into the realm of fiction.
3. Although the faculty are apparently prohibited from referencing real-world settings (more on that later), they created this map using the Mesoamerican interpretations of the text and turned everything 90 degrees so it doesn't look like Mesoamerica (wink, wink), but in doing so, they are standardizing those interpretations.

Tuesday's presentation focused on Geography "to enhance and not distract from intended messages." The presenter did an excellent job giving examples, which I'll discuss in a moment.

First, he explained that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, faculty are not allowed to refer to any real-world setting. Obviously, this is a big improvement from when I attended BYU and was taught the Mesoamerican setting, and possibly this is some sort of transition to gradually, eventually, returning to what Joseph and Oliver taught. If so, great.

But in the meantime, every year BYU refuses to teach students what Joseph and Oliver taught, we'll have thousands of students (and missionaries) being taught this fantasy land version. Once this image is imprinted in their minds, it will be difficult for them to transition to what Joseph and Oliver taught, and they will naturally think, "If my BYU professors didn't tell me about Letter VII, what else did they keep from me?"
Think This
In the presentation Tuesday, several maps were shown, including the one I have on the splash page of this blog, but Letter VII was never mentioned. It is unbelievable to me that in a BYU Education Week Class about Book of Mormon geography, the audience is never told what Joseph and Oliver said about the Hill Cumorah in Letter VII.

As I point out on my Letter VII blog, the New York Cumorah was not some random, obscure teaching. Joseph made sure it was republished several times (including by both of his brothers, Don Carlos and William, who edited Church newspapers). It was universally known and accepted during Joseph's day and accepted by all of his contemporaries and successors.

But now, you can't even mention it at BYU.

Another class I attended Tuesday started by displaying this quotation on the screen:

“Gone are the days when the history of the Church is just interesting. Gone are the days when it is only important. In our day, the history of the Church is urgent.Elder J. Devn. Cornish, asst. executive director, Church History Department

There is a very strange dichotomy at BYU between history and geography that apparently forbids BYU faculty from mentioning Letter VII in either realm. It's as though Letter VII has fallen into a deep crevice and no one can find it.

The speaker in the other session went on to say, "Today Church history is urgent because our history can either bless us as LDS and strengthen us or it can be used against us."

This is definitely the case with Letter VII. If you search, you can find Letter VII in the Joseph Smith papers because Joseph had his scribes copy it into his history. You can find it in the following Church newspapers: The Messenger and Advocate, the Gospel Reflector, the Times and Seasons, The Prophet, the Millennial Star, and the Improvement Era.

Students and investigators who research questions on the Internet will find Letter VII on many anti-Mormon sites. This site, for example, asks the question, "Who are we to believe? Is a BYU professor more reliable than the President of the LDS Church or an Apostle?"

When they wrote Letter VII, Joseph was President of the Church and Oliver was Assistant President, but our BYU professors reject what they wrote and ask students to believe them, the professors, instead. When asked, these professors actually tell students that Church leaders, even when speaking in General Conference, were merely expressing their private opinions and were wrong.

While you will find Letter VII in Church history and on the anti-Mormon sites, you won't find it in the Ensign, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, or any of the publications by modern LDS scholars and educators. You won't learn about it as a student at BYU or at Education Week.

Letter VII may be the very last "secret" of Church history that remains to be revealed to members of the Church. 


The only reason I can think of--the only possible reason, really--is to protect the Mesoamerican ideology, which I label Mesomania. There is a relatively small group of LDS scholars and educators who are emotionally and academically wedded to the Mesoamerican setting and they don't want members of the Church to even know about Letter VII. So far, their influence has prevailed to the point of requiring BYU students to learn this abstract fantasy map instead.

And despite the official policy of neutrality, missionaries at the MTC are still being taught the Mesoamerican theory, the topic of another post coming next week.

Back to the topic of Tuesday's presentation on using geography "to enhance and not distract from intended messages."

The presenter established "three degrees of truth" this way:

Absolute: unassailable, complete, unchangeable, utter, unconditional, independent of belief, supreme
(not a very long list), e.g., God lives, Jesus is the Christ, God loves us
Probable: most likely, most credible, most reasonable, logically apparent
The problems arise when people take something that is probably true and elevate it to an absolute truth
Possible: plausible, feasible, conceivable, imaginable, believable
Lots of possible truths, leading to debates, etc.

Then he asked, "When it comes to scripture geography, how many absolutes do we have? We know where the Sea of Galilee is (absolute), but people fight about other sites in the area."

I was thinking, exactly! We know where Cumorah is thanks to Joseph and Oliver, but people can debate the rest of the geography.

The only reason these scholars don't accept Cumorah in New York as an absolute is because they don't accept what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Imagine what Biblical studies would be like if people were going to India looking for Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee. I'm sure there are sites in India that fit the description in the Bible. That sounds absurd (I hope), but that's exactly what is going on with Book of Mormon studies, all because our LDS scholars reject what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Another class I attended Tuesday started with this quotation:

“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” St. Jerome (347-420 AD). The speaker there said, “Make the scriptures real. When the people are real, we can apply them better and teach others better.”

We are in the bizarre situation of making the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants real, but we are putting the Book of Mormon into a fantasy land, all because our LDS scholars refuse to believe--refuse to even tell their students about--what Joseph and Oliver taught.

With the Sea of Galilee as an absolute, we can better understand the Biblical messages even though we don't know the specific locations of all the other Biblical sites.

It is exactly the same situation with the Book of Mormon.

With Cumorah as an absolute, we can better understand the messages of the Book of Mormon even though we don't know the specific location of all the other sites.

In fact, accepting the New York Cumorah as an absolute is even more important for the Book of Mormon because it implicates the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver (and David Whitmer, Lucy Mack Smith, Brigham Young, and many others).

One final point. The speaker pointed out that Alma told his son that Lehi's group "tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst because of their transgressions" in not exercising faith in using the Liahona. (Alma 37:38-43).

He said, "Maybe God has been giving us directions on our own Liahona, but we haven’t been heeding it, and God let us follow a circuitous route."

I think he's right about that.

I think God gave us directions through Joseph and Oliver, but we haven't been heeding them. Instead, we've followed a circuitous route through Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, Sri Lanka, Eritrea, etc.

Eventually we'll reach the destination, but why continuing to waste time and effort just because we reject what Joseph and Oliver told us in the first place, way back in 1835? Think of how powerful a united Church membership would be, all supporting and sustaining Joseph and Oliver!

[Oliver liked exclamation marks.]

That would be a dramatic improvement over the current situation, when our own LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught, causing members (and investigators) to become confused and disturbed in their faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

Consider the earlier passages in Alma 37, in which Alma teaches the importance of the records that were preserved. Alma said, "And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers."

That sounds very much like Brigham Young, two months before he died (and he was very sick so he knew his time was short), telling the people about the experiences of Oliver and Joseph in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. He said, "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."

Despite President Young's concern, these things have been forgotten and lost--they're down in that crevice, with Letter VII--solely because they contradict the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

We can paraphrase Alma this way: "were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are [in Letter VII], [we] could not have convinced so many thousands of [BYU students, investigators, LDS youth] of the incorrect tradition [Mesoamerican theory] of their fathers."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Interlude - Science vs Religion

The science vs. religion debate has raged for centuries, perhaps never more than now, although for a substantial portion of the population, the debate is over because they think science won.

The debate is relevant here because science is the main reason why so many LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught about one Cumorah in New York.

Well, not science, actually; it's their perceptions and assumptions about science that lead them to the conclusions they wanted to reach in the first place.*

Two worldviews are competing for influence. They are not exclusive to one another; plenty of religious people who believe in the Bible (as well as the latter-day scriptures) are scientists who study and utilize scientific theories, the laws of nature, etc.

However, most scientists are materialists, and, by definition, materialists do not believe in God, spirits, or any reality that cannot be measured or detected by senses (augmented with instrumentation). They think there are physical explanations for everything, without God.

From a persuasion standpoint, materialism is succeeding in modern societies around the world. When science claims to explain everything, what need is there for God? Or faith? Or adherence to religious doctrines and practices? Especially when these are perceived (because they are portrayed) as limiting freedom and expression?

Some LDS scholars and educators hope to "thread the needle" by using science to explain everything, pursuant to the materialism philosophy, while assuring youth, missionaries, investigators, and members that there is really no conflict between religion and science. "All we have to do," they say, "is adjust the scriptures to comply with what science is telling us," and we're good. We can still believe in God, keep the ordinances, obey the commandments, etc., and we'll find happiness in this life and eternal life after we die.

I understand that worldview, and I'm not writing this to say it is "wrong." However, I don't think it's the only way to reconcile science and religion, and I don't think it is sustainable because once we pull some threads out of the scriptures, what remains can unravel pretty quickly.

(It's similar to my point that once our scholars say Joseph and Oliver were wrong about so basic a matter as what they claimed was a fact that Cumorah was in New York, we've embarked on a never-ending assessment of what else they may have been "mistaken" about.)

Instead, I suggest that the "modern science explains everything" approach is not the only viable working hypothesis, and that people can consider multiple working hypotheses.

I propose that there remains a place for literalism, meaning a literal interpretation of the scriptures, and that current science may not explain everything quite as well as it thinks it does.

A key issue is the creation of the Earth and humanity; i.e., is the Earth 4.3 billion years old, with humans evolving 200,000 years ago after eons of evolutionary development, or is humanity only 6,000 years old, starting with Adam and Eve who lived in an unchanging Garden of Eden before the Fall?

As I mentioned, some LDS scholars thread the needle by reconciling religious beliefs in spirituality and God with concepts of materialism by observing that everything in our reality can be explained without God's involvement, but that God does subtly guide people and provide a Savior to compensate for their mistakes.

 A well-known advocate of this view is BYU Professor Steven L. Peck, whose 2017 book Science the Key to Theology, Volume One: Preliminaries, addresses evolution and intelligent design in Chapter 7. In my view, he caricatures and ridicules intelligent design (ID), but you can read his argument for yourself.

Here's how he summarizes his point (page 164).

"Keep in mind if evolution is true, that's the way the world works. We have to deal with it. We may need to readjust how we think about creation, but evolution certainly does not negate that the world was created, that the universe has a purpose, or that God is intelligent. Evolution does not touch our doctrines. We may have to reinterpret some of our literalisms. Sure. But I think that's part of what it means to have an open canon.

"So if you don't want to believe in evolution, fine. Just don't buy into letting ID be taught in the schools unless you really, really, want your children to find that invisibility cloak."

Do you see how this is essentially the same approach taken by the proponents of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs advocates?

They, too, think we "have to reinterpret some of our literalisms," such as Letter VII, the Wentworth letter, and everything else Joseph and Oliver actually said about Book of Mormon geography. Plus, we have to reinterpret the text to find references to volcanoes, jungles, Mayan temples, etc.

As one of them wrote, the Book of Mormon is evidence of what Joseph said was on the plates--what he dictated--but we don't have evidence of what was actually on the plates; i.e., a Mesoamerican expert would have translated the plates differently, giving effect to the undoubtedly Mesoamerican context of the undoubtedly Mesoamerican codex.

This is the rationale for BMAF's mission statement, the goal "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." BMAF owns Book of Mormon Central and integrates with FairMormon, etc. They all share the BMAF mission statement, although some are less forthcoming about that than others.

To borrow Brother Peck's term, the proponents of evolution and the Mesoamerican theory are blind to their own invisibility cloaks. They literally don't see, or at least don't acknowledge, that they are engaging in circular reasoning; i.e., they make assumptions that their premises (stated and unstated) represent reality, and then they build their approach to confirm those premises.

Many people have written many books about science vs. religion, even within the subset of LDS culture and beliefs. My interest in the topic focuses on the impact of capitulating to the scientists.

It seems strange to me that a person who interprets the scriptures literally can find little if any support, let alone additional knowledge and training, at BYU or in CES.

It's a big challenge for missionaries to teach Bible-believing people, not only because of squabbles about whether God has a body and other interpretations of Biblical passages, but more fundamentally, because there is little room in current LDS media/publications for literal beliefs in such basic Biblical teachings as the creation of the Earth and Adam and Eve. This is all the more challenging because those basic Biblical teachings are corroborated by the Book of Mormon, the D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Maybe this capitulation to the scientists reflects the "open canon" that Brother Peck alludes to. Maybe we have rejected a literal belief in the scriptures because we've deferred to the latest scientific theories and discoveries. But if we haven't, we ought to at least give a voice to literal interpretations as one of multiple working hypotheses.

*For example, the Mesoamerican advocates claim the destruction in 3 Nephi must have been caused by volcanoes because there are scientists who say so. It doesn't matter that volcanoes are never mentioned in the text because, they say, there is only one scientific explanation for "the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth," as well as the "vapor of darkness" described in 3 Nephi 8.

Except the science doesn't actually say there is only one explanation.

In fact, each of the phenomena described in the text also occurred during the New Madrid earthquakes along the Mississippi River in the early 1800s.

But that evidence doesn't fit the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, so it is rejected in favor of the "scientific" explanation that relies on volcanoes.

Do you see how this works? The assumptions (that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah because Cumorah is in Mexico and the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica) drive everything.

It probably is true that the only scientific way to explain 3 Nephi 8 in Mesoamerica is by pointing to volcanoes. But those who read the text can plainly see zero references to volcanoes. That alone would exclude Mesoamerica from consideration if we accepted the text for what it says. Scholars would look elsewhere if they were being rational. But as they say, because of Mesomania they can't unsee Mesoamerica when they read the text. They read into it what they want to see.

This is all the more exasperating because what the text actually describes is what actually happens along the river valleys in the Midwestern U.S. It's a matter of historical record, not speculation.

I use this example to show that it is not science that leads people to the Mesoamerican theory, but the underlying assumptions that then drive a search for a scientific explanation to corroborate the preordained conclusion.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Interlude - Elder Holland's powerful talk to a room full of unbelievers

Last Wednesday evening at the Chiasmus Jubilee, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve gave one of the most powerful talks I've ever heard. It was in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building, which seats over 850 people. The room was full of BYU faculty, students, scholars, and other interested people.

The entire talk is available now at mormonnewsroom here. For brevity sake, I'll refer to the Deseret News report here, titled "Elder Holland on Book of Mormon: 'Engaging the head as well as the heart'."

The article is a nice summary of Elder Holland's talk, but it overlooked a key point he made which I discuss below.

First, I note that Elder Holland began his talk by expressing deep appreciation for the work of faithful scholars at BYU and throughout the Church. It was a fitting tribute after the evening's celebration of Brother Welch's discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and the widespread impact that has had on building testimony and encouraging additional faithful research. Non-LDS scholars were present in support of Brother Welch's exemplary long-time collaboration with scholars around the world.

I'll proceed by quoting from the Deseret News article, with my observations in red

Elder Holland reminded guests that the spirit of revelation — including one’s testimony of the Book of Mormon — comes through a process of “engaging the head as well as the heart,” with “the force of fact as well as the force of feeling.” He prefaced this by reminding us about Oliver Cowdery and D&C 8:2, "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost." He also pointed out that "truth borne by the Holy Spirit comes with, in effect, two manifestations, two witnesses if you will-the force of fact as well as the force of feeling."

He added: "Our testimonies aren’t dependent on evidence. We still need always and forever that spiritual confirmation in the heart of which we’ve all spoken. But to not seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief, when it is available, is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation in a sectarian debate." Elder Holland said that we are sometimes not as bold as we could be about this evidence, which made me think about whether I need to be more bold myself. He also quoted from Austin Farrer 1965 observation about rational argument (as BYU President Kevin Worthen had also done earlier that evening): "[T]hough argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."

Elder Holland cited the Apostle Paul’s expression of faith being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

“For me, the classic example of substance that I hope for and the evidence of things I have not seen is the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon, which come from a sheath of gold plates that some people saw and handled and hefted, but I haven’t seen or handled or hefted, and neither have you,” Elder Holland said.

“Nevertheless, the reality of those plates — the substance of them, if you will — and the evidence that comes from them in the form of the Book of Mormon is at the heart, at the very center, of the hope and testimony and conviction of this work that is unshakably within me forever.” Elder Holland also described Martin Harris' experience, when he responded to the visitation of the angel with the plates by shouting, "'tis enough, 'tis enough. mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld."

That's the end of the article's coverage of the talk, and it's great. But it missed what I think was the most powerful lesson of the talk.

After reviewing examples of evidence, including the testimony of the eight witnesses, Elder Holland quoted Mark 16:14. This was Christ's first meeting with the eleven apostles after his resurrection.

"Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen."

He said "The message is that if members of the Godhead go to the trouble of providing “many infallible proofs” of truth, then surely we are honor bound to affirm and declare that truth and may be upbraided if we do not."

I did some research. This verse has been cited only twice in General Conference according to http://www.lds-general-conference.org/, once by Elder Carlos Asay and once by President James E. Faust, and only President Faust recognized that the Savior upbraided the eleven. This is significant because he upbraided them for rejecting eyewitnesses and having a hard heart against those witnesses.

As far as I can discover, Elder Holland has never quoted this verse prior to this Chiasmus Jubilee talk, at least not in any of his books and talks included on Gospelink.

So I wondered, why quote Mark 16:14 at this time, in this place, to this audience?

The first thought: Maybe Elder Holland was appealing to the non-LDS scholars in the room, as well as other nonmembers who might hear or read his talk in the future, who have not accepted the testimonies of the twelve official witnesses to the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith, the Three Witnesses, and the Eight Witnesses). Maybe he was suggesting they, too, should believe these witnesses who testified of what they had actually seen.

But I don't think that was what he had in mind for three reasons.

First, he is much too kind and gentle to compare the non-LDS scholars in that room that night to the Apostles the Savior was upbraiding for their unbelief in the witnesses of his resurrection. Besides, these good non-LDS scholars are all firm believers in the Bible and they love the Lord.

Second, if the focus of the talk was on non-LDS people, there are plenty of other scriptures about people not believing evidence; Mark 16:14 is unique because Mark shows how the Savior upbraided his closest and most faithful and trusted followers, the Apostles themselves, for their unbelief.

Third, his audience in that room that night contained only a few non-LDS people. The audience consisted mostly of prominent LDS scholars and educators at BYU and in the Church, along with students and other LDS people assembled to celebrate evidence that supports the Book of Mormon.

Then it dawned on me.

I was sitting in the midst of over 800 people who, in fact, "believe not them which had seen" and testified about important facts regarding the Book of Mormon.

This was a room full of some of the most faithful and committed members of the Church, many of them entrusted with the heavy responsibility to educate the youth of the Church at BYU and through CES, and yet nearly all of them "believe not" a fundamental witness from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery about the Book of Mormon; i.e., their teaching that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

(I say "nearly all of them" because some people in the audience I knew do accept Letter VII. I'll estimate maybe 50 out of the 850 present. BYU students present have all been taught not to believe Letter VII, but fortunately at least some of them reject what their BYU professors are teaching about this.)

In this setting, at this time, Elder Holland's audience consisted of many of the closest and most faithful and trusted followers in the Church today. (I know, I was also present, but I'm not claiming to be anywhere near on a par with the other people in that room.) I think he quoted Mark 16:14 to this audience--after discussing the witnesses to the Book of Mormon--at least in part to call their attention to their disbelief in what Joseph and Oliver taught.

I doubt this has occurred to a single one of them, but maybe this blog post will help.

Consider this list of LDS speakers on the program. These are all good men, highly skilled and faithful and dedicated, with a variety of academic specialties and backgrounds, with strong testimonies and years of dedicated service, but they have one thing in common: they have specifically rejected what Joseph and Oliver said in Letter VII.

Robert F. Smith
John W. Welch
Noel B. Reynolds
Daniel C. Peterson
Taylor Halverson
Stephen Smoot

Others present in the room, some of them having presented earlier in the Jubilee, have done likewise:

Neal Rappleye
Matt Roper
Kerry Hull
Kirk Magleby

There were other scholars and educators present that I won't name, and as I said, there were a few people in the room who do accept what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII, but the ones I listed not only "believe not" what Joseph and Oliver wrote, they strongly oppose it. 

Consider the sponsors of the event.

Book of Mormon Central, Official Sponsor of the Chiasmus Jubilee, and the Interpreter Foundation, Official Co-Sponsor, have published articles specifically opposing Letter VII and its implications.

BYU Studies , the other Official Sponsor of the Chiasmus Jubilee, continues to feature, on its main web page, maps and other material that reject Letter VII.

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, another Official Co-Sponsor, published a book that ridicules what Joseph and Oliver taught by saying, "There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." Of course, among the Latter-day Saints who "insisted" this--who went further and stated it was a fact--were Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.

I hope this post is not perceived (or later characterized) as some sort of attack. It's not. As I've always said, I respect and admire the people I've listed here and their work. I like all of them. Their ongoing disbelief in what Joseph and Oliver taught is inexplicable to me.* 

Some may reject my interpretation of what Elder Holland meant, which is fine. Before they spend time trying to come up with an alternative interpretation, though, I suggest they ask themselves what they think about Letter VII and why. Is their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught based on confirmation bias? I.e., are they seeking to hold onto a belief in the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory? If so, why?

Some may claim that Elder Holland doesn't know about Letter VII and what Joseph and Oliver taught, or how the disbelief in what they taught is affecting the Church. Do you seriously want to make that assumption?

Some may not see the importance of Letter VII. For that, I suggest you consider the abstract map of Book of Mormon lands that BYU is now requiring every new BYU student learn, and which was presented at the event right before Elder Holland spoke. That map teaches every BYU student that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about an important issue. It's the first step on a slippery slope that no member of the Church should take, let alone be required to take.

I think Mark 16:14 provides an insightful and profound explanation of the situation here. The Savior was appearing to his apostles for the first time after his resurrection. They would go forward from this meeting and "preach the gospel to every creature" with great power and faith.

But first, he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe the witnesses the Lord had provided. They had to conquer their unbelief and hardness of heart, and they weren't doing it on their own. We may infer they had justified their unbelief somehow. They had their reasons. Their rationalizations. Maybe they even thought they had facts. Everyone does.

And yet, their disbelief and hardness of heart prevented them from accomplishing their callings. The matter was so important that the Savior Himself came to them to upbraid them.

Their justifications didn't matter then, any more than the justifications for disbelieving Letter VII matter today.

We know from Brigham Young and others that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were eyewitnesses to Mormon's record depository in the Hill Cumorah. That's how they could speak of Cumorah as a fact years later when they wrote Letter VII. They were witnesses to Cumorah as much as they were to the plates themselves.

For too long, modern LDS scholars and educators have rejected the witness of Joseph and Oliver as "manifestly absurd," as the book I quoted claimed.

I hope Elder Holland's talk will motivate these faithful, capable, and talented scholars to reconsider their justifications and cease their disbelief.

As Joseph taught, "there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—" (D&C 123:12)

Imagine how many blinders would fall from the eyes of the people in the world if our LDS scholars and educators--and their students and readers--would accept and embrace and work to vindicate the testimonies of Joseph and Oliver about the Hill Cumorah and related issues instead of opposing them because of disbelief and hardness of heart. 

I think it will happen. It's just a matter of when, and I hope it's sooner rather than later.

* It is inexplicable in the sense that they should know better by now.

I realize that the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories originated with RLDS scholars in the 1920s. The theories were developed further by LDS scholars who, in part, relied on the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. It was fueled, as well, by such works as David A. Palmer's book, In Search of Cumorah, which established phony "requirements" for Cumorah that contradicted what Joseph and Oliver taught. Palmer wrote the entry on Cumorah in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that contains this deeply unfortunate claim: "Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica." Palmer cited his own book in that article, of course, and then someone plagiarized it for a phony fax from the "Office of the First Presidency" which the Conclave (FairMormon, FARMS, Book of Mormon Central, etc.) has used ever since to support their Mesomania. It's a cascade of errors that should have been discarded long ago, but it persists partly because of inertia and partly because so many scholars and educators have invested so much time, energy, and personal credibility into the Mesoamerican setting that they strongly resist changing their minds, even to the point of unbelief in what Joseph and Oliver plainly taught.

But we should be way past academic pride by now.