Monday, April 30, 2018

New Discoveries about Mayans and bias confirmation

[Note: while I'm out of the country, we're re-posting the most popular posts from the last few years]

We have an outstanding new example of how confirmation bias works in the arena of Book of Mormon geography and historicity.


Last week, researchers announced a major discovery about Mayan civilization based on LiDAR scanning of jungles in Central America. This discovery will probably confirm your bias no matter what you believe; i.e., it will support your position whether: 

1. You accept the New York Cumorah as taught in President Cowdery's Letter VII and reaffirmed by the prophets and apostles, which I refer to as Moroni's America (MA);

OR

2. You accept the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs (M2C) theory taught by BYU/CES intellectuals, which repudiates Letter VII and the prophets and apostles.

Another way to say this:

M2C seeks to repudiate Letter VII and the prophets and apostles.

MA seeks to support Letter VII and the prophets and apostles.

You decide which bias you share and then interpret the scriptures accordingly.

I'll have lots more to say about bias confirmation in upcoming posts because it fascinates me that two groups can derive such dramatically different expectations from the same text.

Because this news about the Mayans is so fresh, let's start by looking at the discovery. Then we'll look at how the scriptures are interpreted to confirm the respective biases.
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Here's one report, along with an image from the article:

https://phys.org/news/2018-02-laser-technology-reveals-secrets-ancient.html

A comparison of LiDAR data showing the ancient Maya site of El Zotz
covered in trees (left), and with the trees digitally removed. Credit: Ithaca College
The image on the left shows what the area looks like with tree coverage. On the right, the trees are removed, showing a complex of buildings and roads that are not visible naturally.

The new data revealed a much more extensive, sophisticated, and densely-populated civilization than was previously known or estimated.

One of the researchers, Thomas Garrison, will appear in a documentary on the National Geographic channel tomorrow (Feb 6). The article notes this: "Especially telling to Garrison are newly revealed agricultural features that would be necessary to support the lowland Maya population during their centuries of civilization—population estimates have now expanded from a few million to 10-20 million—and defensive structures that suggest warfare was far more prevalent than previously known."

National Geographic has more photos here: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/maya-laser-lidar-guatemala-pacunam/
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Next, let's look at the respective biases.

As an MA supporter, my bias is this: 
I accept the New York Cumorah as taught by Letter VII and the prophets and apostles. I interpret the text and relevant scientific and historical evidence in a manner that corroborates and confirms my bias.

M2C supporters (those affiliated with BYU Studies, BookofMormonCentral, FairMormon, the InterpreterMeridian Magazine, BMAF, etc.) have a bias expressed candidly by BMAF
"to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex.They interpret the text and relevant scientific and historical evidence in a manner that corroborates and confirms their bias.

After I started writing this post, Meridian Magazine posted an article about this finding titled "How an Incredible New Archaeological Discovery Corroborates the Book of Mormon." Now I don't have to infer what M2C intellectuals would think about this discovery: I can use their actual words. You can see why I've referred to this source as Meridian Mesoamerican Magazine. They will never, ever tell their readers about President Cowdery's Letter VII because their owners don't want their readers to know what the prophets and apostles have taught. I consider this deceitful, of course, and you can decide for yourself whether you agree, but I don't blame them for seeking to confirm their biases because everyone does it--even when, in this case, they are trying to persuade members of the Church to disbelieve the prophets and apostles.

You can see the bias confirmation in the very title of this article!
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There is nothing inherently right or wrong about bias. Everyone has biases. It's a question of whether we honestly recognize our own and those of others, and then recognize that we interpret the world (and the scriptures) to confirm our biases.

Once we recognize the biases of the various players, the rest is easy.

Here's an example. My first job out of law school was as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Mexico. After oral argument on a case, the Justices would vote on the outcome they wanted. Whichever outcome the majority voted for became the Court's position, and the Justices assigned us, as the law clerks, to write the opinions accordingly.

Any of us law clerks could have written the opinion to reach whichever conclusion the Justices wanted. In close cases, it's not a question of what the law is, but rather what the Justices want it to be. Then we write the opinion to make it look like the desired outcome was obvious all along. You always want the Court's opinion to frame the issue as a pursuit of the "correct law," but everyone knows these opinions are anything but that. They are always a reflection of the personal philosophies of the judges. That's why it makes such a big difference whether a conservative or a liberal is appointed to a court.

The reason lawyers charge clients so much money is not because they know what the law is, but because they know how to use the law to get what the clients want. 

BYU map designed to teach students that the
apostles and prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah
It's really no different in scholarly work. The idea that one side or the other is pursuing "the truth" is a ruse. Everyone is seeking purely to confirm his/her biases. When you look at the fantasy map currently being taught at BYU, for example, it has nothing to do with seeking the truth, and everything to do with teaching the students that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah. Otherwise, the BYU map would show Cumorah in New York.

The same thing is going on in the Church History department, btw, which I'll be demonstrating in upcoming posts. The scholars there are colluding with the M2C proponents to portray Joseph Smith as a confused speculator who was wrong about the New York Cumorah.

This is why the semantic arguments about interpreting the Book of Mormon are pointless. LDS literature on this topic is full of subjective interpretations about such topics as what constitutes a "narrow neck," and whether that is different from a "narrow neck of land." You will agree or disagree with a particular interpretation depending on whether you agree or disagree with the bias of the person proposing that interpretation.

Actually, this is why the M2C proponents oppose Letter VII so vehemently. You can't mistake President Cowdery's meaning when he states it is a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah. There's no wiggle room there.

To reiterate this again:

MA proponents seek interpretations of the text and relevant science, history, etc. that corroborate Letter VII and the prophets and apostles because they want to demonstrate their teachings are correct.

M2C proponents seek interpretations of the text and relevant science, history, etc. that refute Letter VII and the prophets and apostles because they want to demonstrate their teachings are false.

Everything you read about this topic reflects these respective biases.

Meridian Magazine has an agenda of teaching members of the Church that the prophets and apostles are wrong about Cumorah, so they published this article to reinforce that agenda.

My agenda is to teach members of the Church that the prophets and apostles are correct about Cumorah, so I publish this blog to reinforce that agenda.

This is all very basic, but it is usually overlooked.

Now, let's look at how the new data about the Mayans confirms these respective biases.
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MA position. If you believe in the New York Cumorah, you will likely view this LiDAR discovery as additional evidence that the Nephites could not possibly have lived among the Mayans.

I think the text shows Lehi's colony landing in the promised land, planting their own seeds, finding animals and ore in the wilderness, all while completely unimpeded by any existing civilization. (1 Ne. 18:23-5). I think Lehi's observation that "this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations" was accurate; i.e., that there were no "other nations" in the promised land where they landed, "for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance" (2 Nephi 1:8).

I do think think there were some indigenous people who went with Nephi when he fled (2 Nephi 5:6), but I infer they were unorganized hunter/gatherers (as the archaeological record shows) who did not qualify as any sort of "nation" and were impressed by the Jewish immigrants' technology, language, etc.

In my view, it is difficult enough to believe that Lehi's family, a relative handful of immigrants from a distant culture speaking a different language, could have arrived and started planting crops on unclaimed land in Mesoamerica, encountering no resistance, but it is even more difficult to believe Lehi's descendants could have managed to rule as kings and chief judges over even a part of a Mayan civilization, and that in the midst of this Mayan civilization, King Mosiah could have escaped with the Nephites into the wilderness and found a much larger group of illiterate people (the people of Zarahemla) who possessed exactly one engraven stone.

Now that we are learning from LiDAR that the Mayan civilization was even larger, more densely populated, and more sophisticated than we previously realized, the Book of Mormon seems even less plausible in that setting. IOW, the grander the Mayan civilization, the less likely it is that Lehi landed anywhere near that civilization.

This view is based on the text and has nothing directly to do with the New York Cumorah, but it does confirm my bias in favor of the New York Cumorah.
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M2C position. If you believe the M2C position that Cumorah is not in New York and that the entire Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, you will likely view this LiDAR discovery as additional evidence that the Nephites must have lived among the Mayans.

The basic M2C concept is described in the Meridian Magazine article. It is the idea that the Nephites were absorbed into Mayan culture. That's why there is no Israelite DNA in Central America, no traces of Nephite languages or the law of Moses or Christian beliefs and practices, etc. M2C proponents believe there were bottlenecks (both DNA-related and cultural) that screened out Nephite cultural influence.

The M2C proponents think the verses I quoted above describe an arrival in Mayan territory and complete absorption into that culture. They think the text describes a massive, sophisticated society of millions of people, so they interpret the new LiDAR discovery to confirm their bias.

Let's look at some of the verses cited in the Meridian Magazine article to demonstrate how the respective interpretations confirm the respective biases.
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M2C proponents generally believe the Nephites lived among a much larger culture (i.e., Mayan culture in Mesoamerica). The Meridian article cites Mormon 1:7 as evidence of a huge Nephite population, possibly in the millions, with intensive agriculture, etc.

6 And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.

7 The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.

If you look at the published LiDAR images, and you want to confirm your M2C bias of a large, dense civilization, you will eagerly conclude that (i) Mayan buildings literally "covered" the land, and (ii) Mormon somehow knew this without the benefit of satellite images.

But if you're not seeking to confirm your M2C bias, you look at the selected LiDAR images and notice they do not show the land to be "covered with buildings." There are more structures than archaeologists realized, for sure, but most of the terrain remains uninhabited, just like in the much more heavily populated modern world.

The National Geographic article points out that "The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested."

No ancient civilizations in Greece, China, Mesoamerica, or anywhere else, covered the land with buildings. The LiDAR articles themselves don't make any such claim. Instead, they note that "Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape."

LiDAR shows us that the "face of the land" was mainly covered with agricultural activities and wilderness, with some areas containing a concentration of buildings, just as the land today is throughout the world, even in densely populated countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Lebanon, and Israel.

Only a bias-confirming M2C proponent would delude himself/herself into thinking that these LiDAR images show "the whole face of the land covered with buildings."

Am I saying Mormon was wrong?

Not at all.

Let's look at the scripture. He says he was 11 years old when his father took him on this trip. Why would he say the face of the land was "covered with buildings," when such a description, if taken literally, is impossible as we just saw.

1. First, we have to consider this from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy.
2. Second, we have to consider what someone on the ground would see, without the benefit of satellite images.
3. Third, we have to consider what the term "building" means.

I've addressed all of this before in my book, Moroni's America, but I'll quickly summarize how MA proponents view these things here.

1. The perception of an 11-year-old differs from the perception of an adult. Think of Mormon as a Cub Scout. He wasn't even old enough to be a Deacon. How would a Cub Scout perceive the world? To children, everything looks bigger. Who hasn't revisited a childhood home and been surprised at how small it was compared with what you remembered?

Tikal viewed from the air
2. Without the benefit of satellite or aerial imagery, how would ancient people know what "the face of the land" was like? If you've climbed to the top of the Mayan ruins in Yucatan as I have, you know you can look over the relatively flat terrain and see the peaks of other ruins, many of them still covered with jungle.

Let's assume that in Mormon's day the jungle was cut back so you could see the structures clearly. What would Mormon see from the top of one of these temples?

He would see mostly agricultural land, just as the LiDAR images show.

The Meridian Magazine article, paradoxically, recognizes the inconsistency of its own argument. Look at these two applications of Mormon 1:7:

"Maya lowland population at apogee could have reached 15 million Mormon 1:7" (we can all see that Mormon 1:7 gives no population numbers).

"land use was intensive – nearing 100% utilization is some areas Mormon 1:7" (we can all read that Mormon 1:7 describes buildings covering the whole face of the earth, not "intensive land use").

Besides reading into the text the M2C bias, these two claims are inconsistent. Which one is correct?

"The whole face of the earth is covered with buildings" (Mormon's actual description)

OR 

"intensive land use in some areas" for agriculture (Meridian Magazine's M2C explanation of what Mormon "really" meant).

Do you see how bias confirmation can lead to absurd interpretations of the text?
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So what could Mormon have meant in these verses?

He could only have reported what he saw (or was told). I think this means that on his way to Zarahemla, he traveled in heavily populated areas.

I think everyone can agree that he did not have an aerial view.

So let's think. How would an 11-year-old boy taking what was essentially a long field trip travel through a heavily populated area that was "covered with buildings" with so many people that it seemed to him like "the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea?"

One thing is for sure; Mormon either did not describe his experience accurately, or he could not have been traveling through the areas captured in these LiDAR images, because most of the land he would have traveled through was agricultural or wilderness.

National Geographic is going to show the most spectacular LiDAR images of stone structures, including temples and roads. They will show indicia of irrigation, including canals, dykes and reservoirs (none of which are mentioned in the text, btw). But by far, most of the land even in this "densely populated" ancient Mayan world captured by LiDAR is not covered by buildings.

Again, I'm not saying Mormon reported his observations inaccurately. I'm saying just the opposite.

Distribution of mounds and earthworks in the eastern United States.
Red dots indicate relative occurrence and comparative distribution
rather than individual major remains.
I think Mormon was traveling along the Allegheny and Ohio rivers on his way to the land of Zarahemla (Illinois and Iowa). In ancient North America, people lived along these rivers.

This map shows how the ancient moundbuilders in North America located mostly along rivers. This makes sense; rivers provided water, fish, and other wildlife. They were transportation corridors. They also served as boundaries between competing groups.

If, as I have proposed, Mormon was traveling along these rivers, he would have seen little more than buildings and people. (One non-LDS experts reports there were over a million mounds in ancient North America.)

Had Mormon instead been walking through Mesoamerica, he would have seen mostly agricultural and wilderness areas, occasionally interspersed with the Mayan structures.

From my perspective, confirming my bias in favor of Letter VII and the New York Cumorah, young Mormon was describing a long-distance journey through a heavily populated area where the "face of the land" (as opposed to the rivers he was traveling upon) appeared to be "covered with buildings" along with lots and lots of people.

From my perspective, a person traveling through the lands depicted in the Mayan LiDAR photos would never have described the land as "covered with buildings" because most of it was agricultural and wilderness.

3. What does the term "building" mean in the first place?

First, we have to recognize that not a verse in the Book of Mormon says any "buildings" were made of stone. We are told they were made of wood and, for one brief period in one location, of wood and cement (Helaman 3). But the only stone buildings in the text are in the imagination of the reader. 

If you want to confirm an M2C bias, then you can read "stone" into the text wherever you want. People who share your bias will undoubtedly agree with you.

But because I don't share the M2C bias, I don't see any stone buildings.

However, I do see "their shipping and building of ships," which Mormon didn't take the time to describe in detail but was just as much a part of Nephite society as "their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries" (Helaman 3:14). I take this to mean they lived along rivers.

So what could Mormon have meant by "buildings" in verse 7?

In my presentation at the 2017 Mormon History Association in St. Louis (you can read it here), I pointed out that Dr. Roger Kennedy, the former director of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, addressed a misperception about earth mounds, noting that earth mounds are actually buildings. "Build and building are also very old words, often used in this text [his book] as they were when the English language was being invented, to denote earthen structures. About 1150, when the word build was first employed in English, it referred to the construction of an earthen grave. 350 years later, an early use of the term to build up was the description of the process by which King Priam of Troy constructed a "big town of bare earth." So when we refer to the earthworks of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys as buildings no one should be surprised."

Even today when you drive along the Ohio River you see lots of ancient mounds that have been preserved. I've taken photos of many of these. By far, most have been destroyed and replaced by modern roads and structures. But as the map above shows, in ancient times if you traveled along these rivers, there were mound cities and defensive positions along the banks.

Young Mormon and his family traveling to Zarahemla
by Ken Corbett
Most of the modern depictions of the moundbuilder sites illustrate Mississippian or later culture because these were built over earlier settlements that dated to Book of Mormon times, but they give a rough idea of what Mormon would have seen during his field trip.

This painting shows young Mormon and his family on their journey to the land of  Zarahemla.

A Cub Scout seeing this would definitely conclude that the "whole face of the land" was "covered with buildings."


Nevertheless, if your bias is that Letter VII and the prophets and apostles are wrong, then you cannot accept my interpretation of the text because it would contradict your bias. It would generate cognitive dissonance you seek to avoid.

Instead, you must persuade yourself that traveling through agricultural and wilderness land, by foot, occasionally passing through areas of dense human habitation, would lead you to write that the "whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea."
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You can also pretend that you don't have a bias; i.e., you don't have an opinion on whether or not Letter VII and the prophets and apostles are correct. You just want to look at the "facts" and decide. Such thinking is delusional, but most people don't realize that.

If you're one who subscribes to M2C, I'm interested in an explanation of how these Mayan LiDAR images show anything like the "whole face of the land covered with buildings."
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There's one more aspect of this passage we should examine.

The M2C proponents claim the Book of Mormon describes a Nephite civilization numbering in the millions (or at least in the midst of millions of Mayans). The LiDAR discoveries have increased population estimates to as high as 15 million, which confirms the M2C bias.

The MA bias sees it differently. I read the text as describing a Nephite civilization of tens of thousands, not millions, of people. (I'm not discussing the Jaredites here.) Because of my bias, when I read LiDAR discoveries that there were many millions more Mayan than previously believed, that takes the Mayan civilization even further away from the descriptions in the text.

I keep reading in Mormon 1. During the same year as Mormon's field trip, he says there began to be a war (verse 8).

8 And it came to pass in this year there began to be a war between the Nephites, who consisted of the Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites; and this war was between the Nephites, and the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites.

9 Now the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two parties were Nephites and Lamanites.

10 And it came to pass that the war began to be among them in the borders of Zarahemla, by the waters of Sidon.

Sounds like a lot of people involved, doesn't it? Seven separate groups, allied into two camps: the Nephites and the Lamanites.

In fact, Mormon says "the Nephites had gathered together a great number of men" for this war. They had a number of battles during which the Nephite "did slay many of" the Lamanites.

Now, how many men did Mormon consider to be a "great number?"

30,000.

Well, "even to exceed the number of thirty thousand."

Look at how that is phrased. Mormon seeks to impress the reader with the size of this Nephite army by calling it "a great number of men, even to exceed the number of thirty thousand."

As if the reader can hardly imagine a number as great as 30,000.

In the context of a civilization of 15 million people, how would this be at all impressive?

Do you see why, in my interpretation of the text, a Nephite civilization in the midst of 15 million people makes no sense?

Later, Mormon tells us that after he gathered in his people "together in one body" he was able to recruit an army of 42,000. (Mormon 2:7-9). That's even more impressive than the 30,000, but still insignificant in the midst of 15 million people.

For these and similar reasons, the larger the Mayan civilization turns out to be, the less likely it has anything to do with the Book of Mormon.
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So far, I've only addressed Mormon 1:7 to show how confirmation bias drives one's interpretation of the text. I could do the same with the rest of the Meridian Magazinearticle.

I freely admit my bias: I seek to corroborate and support President Cowdery's Letter VII and the prophets and apostles who have consistently affirmed it for over 150 years.

M2C proponents also freely admit their bias: they seek "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex," which requires them to refute and reject President Cowdery's Letter VII and the prophets and apostles who have consistently affirmed it.

In my view, the intellectuals who push M2C don't really care what the text actually says, so long as they can construe it--or make stuff up--to confirm their biases.

They are so obsessed with proving the prophets and apostles wrong that they resort to strained interpretations of the text and seeing terms and concepts that don't appear in the text anywhere. That's how they come up with the 3 Js (Jaguars, Jungles and Jade) and the three Ms (Mayans, Mountains and Massive stone temples) that are characteristic of Mesoamerica but not the Book of Mormon. (Not to mention volcanoes...).
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Every time you read Meridian Magazine (or BYU Studies, or anything produced by any other members of the citation cartel), you need to recognize that the authors are confirming their biases.

If you share their biases, then you will probably accept what they write, no problem.

If you don't share their biases, you will see right through their rhetoric.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Overcoming false traditions about Cumorah

Note: I posted this on November 28, 2016. Seems I was overly optimistic... but we are trying to overcome false traditions that the M2C intellectuals have developed and promoted for decades, so the change won't happen overnight.


There's a useful analysis of false traditions here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/11/the-traditions-of-their-fathers?lang=eng

Now that I think about it, the censorship efforts of the M2C intellectuals and the M2C citation cartel reflect the same mentality that led the Lamanites to seek to destroy the Nephite records. 

One of the tiny details in Church history is becoming more and more significant. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy President Cowdery's letters, including Letter VII, into his personal history. That's why it's available in the Joseph Smith Papers for everyone in the world to see. Otherwise, the M2C intellectuals could have effectively suppressed it forever, and we'd never overcome the false M2C traditions about Cumorah.
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As we're nearing the end of 2016 and our focus on the Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine class, I hope most members of the Church have taken a closer look at what they've been taught. I had hoped to have at least one issue resolved by the end of the year: the New York location of Cumorah. 

Many people have embraced the New York Cumorah, but many still fight against it. There is still a month to go. Maybe it will happen, but there are a lot of holdouts among LDS scholars and educators.

Anecdotally, I know many Gospel Doctrine teachers have tried to offer alternatives to the standard teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). In many cases, they have faced opposition from people who have been taught a false tradition by LDS scholars and educators. The false tradition centers on the Hill Cumorah.

It's not easy to overcome false traditions.

It has been said that human intellect is like a speck floating on a sea of emotion, and that's what I see happening here. My only explanation for all the emotion involved with the Cumorah question is Mesomania, as I discuss on that blog here.

I'm still hopeful that LDS scholars and educators will align their teachings about Cumorah with the prophets and apostles, but so far it hasn't happened, so we need to identify which traditions are false.

If you've been following the Cumorah question, you know that LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican geography claim that the idea of Cumorah being in New York was a false tradition started by unknown persons early in the Church. They go on to claim that Joseph Smith simply adopted this false tradition and perpetuated it, along with all of his contemporaries, including his successors as Presidents of the Church.

You might find that unbelievable, but it's true. If you want specific citations, I can provide them, but you don't have to look far.

In fact, every time you read or hear something by modern LDS scholars and educators that connects the Book of Mormon events* to Mesoamerica (Central America), the author or speaker has repudiated the New York Cumorah and all the prophets and apostles who, they claim, have "perpetuated a false tradition." You will find this at Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, Meridian Magazine, and all the rest. You will hear it in Sunday School and seminary and institute classes. You will hear it at BYU campuses.

The bottom line: these LDS scholars and educators claim they are correcting the prophets and apostles.

They, the scholars, think they are overcoming this false tradition by promoting the idea that Cumorah is actually in Mexico. Or Baja. Or Panama. Or Peru. Or Chile. Or anywhere else that is not in New York.

In some places, they are using abstract maps to avoid the New York Cumorah.

In my view, the false tradition we should be concerned about is the idea that Cumorah is not in New York. The most common alternative is the claim that Cumorah is in Mexico. This tradition was started in the 1920s, after everyone who personally knew Joseph Smith had passed on. This tradition was adopted by LDS scholars over the objection of of Joseph Fielding Smith and other prophets and apostles.

So the question now is, how do we overcome this false tradition about Cumorah in Mexico?
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I suggest three things:

1. Read Letter VII (Seven) and recognize how it was universally accepted by Joseph Smith and all of his contemporaries. I have lots of documentation on my Letter VII blog here:
http://www.lettervii.com/

2. Learn about the New York setting. Mesoamerican advocates claim the New York hill can't be Cumorah for two reasons.

a. It doesn't fit their interpretation of the text. When you go through their list of "requirements," you see the requirements were designed to fit their Mesoamerican setting. They require volcanoes, for example, but the text never mentions volcanoes. When you read the text instead of the Mesoamerican scholars' interpretation of the text, the New York site fits nicely--just as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said it did.

b. It is a "clean hill," meaning there are no artifacts there. This rationale is based on the work of John Clark, a BYU archaeologist who published some cursory analyses of the archaeology that I've analyzed previously in this blog. It is often cited by the Mesoamerican scholars, who also outright ignore the accounts of people who actually worked at the Hill Cumorah and recovered boxes full of ancient war implements, as well as other accounts of farmers in the area who plowed up artifacts every year that they sold to tourists or kept in private collections.

There is lots of material here: http://moronisamerica.com/

3. Assess the scholarship of the Mesoamerican advocates. In this blog and in other forums, I've analyzed just a few of the dozens of articles, books and blogs on the topic, all of which are thoroughly dependent upon Mesomania. What I mean by that is if you already believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and you want your bias confirmed (i.e., you have Mesomania), the writings of the Mesoamerican advocates are great. They will definitely confirm your biases. But if you look at them objectively, they don't make their case. Not even close. They use a series of logical fallacies and illusory correspondences that are easy to identify.
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The most important thing for you to keep in mind is that you are not required to accept what Mesoamerican scholars have been promoting for decades. Think for yourself. Read the Book of Mormon carefully and in the light of what the prophets and apostles have said in General Conference and in the scriptures.

Sooner or later, we will overcome the false tradition that Cumorah is not in New York.
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*There is a difference between saying people living in Latin America are Lamanites and saying Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica. Because of migration, Lamanite ancestry could have spread from North America where the Book of Mormon events took place throughout Latin America.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A question about LDS scholars

[Note: while I'm out of the country, we're re-posting the most popular posts from the last few years]

I get a lot of questions about what LDS scholars were thinking as they developed and promoted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). 

I can't answer those questions because I don't know what they were thinking. All I have to go by is what they've published over the years. Besides, I can't speak for anyone else anyway. (I don't think any LDS scholars are reading this blog, but if they are, no offense is intended.)

Every LDS scholar I've met is a nice person, sincere, capable, wanting to do the right thing, etc. I infer from their writing that they have been trying to vindicate what they thought Joseph wrote in the Times and Seasons. But IMO they are in a difficult situation right now. Rather than be critical, we should be empathetic.

I speak from personal experience, having believed and taught the Mesoamerican theory for decades before changing my mind. It's not a simple, overnight process in most cases.

Consider this from your own experience.

If you've believed in a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon your entire life--and how could you not when Church media, LDS scholars, and most instructors tell you this over and over--you might find it difficult to change your mind and embrace the North American setting.

Many--I think most--members of the Church don't realize that the Mesoamerican setting is based on the two-Cumorah theory (Moroni's Cumorah in New York, Mormon's Cumorah somewhere in southern Mexico). Most members have never heard of the two-Cumorah theory and they find it confusing, strange, and unbelievable when they do learn that this is what most LDS scholars think. Just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

When you consider the North American setting, you might feel like you're rejecting something important, when in reality, the Church has no official position on the geography question. Soon you realize you are rejecting merely artists' concepts and academic theories that contradict early Church leaders anyway. You're rejecting the confusing two-Cumorah theory in favor of the unambiguous one-Cumorah in New York.

If it's difficult for you, imagine how difficult it is for those who have promoted these theories for so long. For a lifetime, in many cases.

It's the problem of cognitive dissonance. (A good definition is here.)

There are three situations that produce cognitive dissonance, which is the mental stress or discomfort people feel when:

1. They hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values;
2. Their actions contradict their beliefs, ideas, or values;
3. They are confronted with new information that contradicts their beliefs, ideas, or values.

It's the third one I'll focus on here.
________________________

LDS scholars who promote the Mesoamerican theory have created an identity for themselves based on that theory. (At the risk of overgeneralizing, I've listed some of the common claims we read in the publications at the end of this post.)

When information comes along that contradicts their theory, how can they respond?

They have two choices.

1. They can change their self-images and admit they were wrong about the geography.

2. They can interpret the new information to make it consistent with their theory and self-image, and reinterpret old information to make it fit.

So far, they have chosen option #2. This is completely understandable, of course. Expected, even.

To protect their self-images as experts in this field, they have been forced to create pretzel-like explanations of their reality. I've documented dozens of examples in this blog already. Consider the rationalizations for rejecting Letter VII, the imaginary interpretations of the text (seeing volcanoes and pyramids where none exist), and the efforts to preserve long-held traditions about Church history.

One of my philosophies is that eventually, the right thing happens. It will in this case, as well, even if it takes longer than we'd like.

I encourage people to read as much scholarly material as possible. Go ahead and read Book of Mormon Central, which is republishing all the old Mesoamerican material and repurposing it as KnoWhys. Or go to FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, etc. It becomes evident, very soon, how convoluted the rationalizations are.

But you have to prioritize, and if you have limited time, the single best discussion of Book of Mormon geography is the text itself, followed by Letter VII, which tells us exactly where the Hill Cumorah is. With that pin in the map, you can figure out the rest.

It's actually very simple and clear.

If you want my ideas on it, you can read my blogs and web pages, or my books on Moroni's America, either the full or the pocket edition. If you want to read more about Letter VII, you can read my little book on it. There are lots of resources on the Book of Mormon Evidence page, too.

Whatever you do, don't depend on what some scholar tells you to think.

Okay, now you're wondering why I created the blogs, web pages, and books if I'm not telling people what to think.

I don't believe in telling people what to think. Instead, my goal is to give people the information they need to think for themselves.

For example, I have a fairly detailed chart showing what people agree about and what they agree-to-disagree about, here.

The problem in the past has been that you can't find alternative perspectives in the works of LDS scholars. You can't find references to Letter VII, for example. (You can't even find it on lds.org). To their credit, Book of Mormon Central has at least published the first edition of my Letter VII book. As far as I know, it's the first and only reference to Oliver Cowdery's letter you can find on traditional LDS scholarly sites.

But you still won't find information about the North American setting, even on Book of Mormon Central. The information you do find in LDS scholarly publications is often wrong, such as the analysis of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and you never learn about the evidence that supports the North American setting.

But that is changing.

More and more people are talking about the North American setting, whether it is referred to as the Heartland, Moroni's America, This Land, or other terminology.

Someday, I think LDS scholars will come to accept the North American setting. But don't hold your breath, and in the meantime, learn as much as you can and decide for yourself.

:)
_____________________________

Common claims of LDS scholars who write about Book of Mormon geography:

1. They are experts in their fields.
2. They think Joseph Smith didn't know much about Book of Mormon geography (some think he didn't know much about the Book of Mormon itself), and they think Oliver Cowdery knew even less (and was wrong about Cumorah in New York).
3. They think Joseph relied on scholars to figure out the geography.
4. They think they have figured out the geography by building on the RLDS concept of a limited geography in Central America and by developing a two-Cumorah theory that relegates the New York hill to a place where Moroni carried the plates and other artifacts 3400 miles from Mesoamerica.
5. They think their theory is supported by archaeology, geology, etc.
6. They think similarities between Mayan culture and their interpretation of Nephite culture constitute correspondences that support their theory.
7. They think the Book of Mormon is not translated correctly because it doesn't contain the Mesoamerican references it should; e.g., the named animals are substitutes for Central American species. Joseph's translation is evidence of what he translated, but not of what was actually on the plates.
8. They think the North American setting is not supported by the text, by the teachings of Joseph and Oliver, or by the archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.
9. They think evidence from Church history that supports the North American setting is unreliable, visionary, and false.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The philosophies of men

[Note: while I'm out of the country, we're re-posting the most popular posts from the last few years]

BYU "abstract map" used by BYU faculty
to teach students that the prophets are wrong
about the New York Cumorah and that students
should believe philosophies of BYU professors,
mingled with scripture (as interpreted by
those same BYU professors)
Go to http://bom.byu.edu/.
Today I want to look at what is really being taught about Cumorah in our Visitors' Centers, at BYU/CES, in the Joseph Smith Papers, etc.

I don't know of a better description than this: what is being taught about Cumorah are the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

The Book of Mormon itself warns us of this danger.

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not... But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9:28-29).

The entire premise of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) consists of M2C intellectuals setting aside the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah, supposing they know of themselves.

The M2C intellectuals think they are wise--wiser than the prophets and apostles. They have persuaded their students for decades that they (the intellectuals) are wise, while the prophets and apostles are naive speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

Now those trusting students themselves have become teachers at BYU/CES, historians, Church employees who set up the displays in the Visitors Centers, etc.
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The M2C intellectuals are familiar with 2 Nephi 9:28. They teach it to their students and profess to believe it. They just don't apply it to themselves.

Instead, their confirmation bias is so strong that they honestly believe they are not setting aside the teachings of the prophets because, according to them, the prophets never taught that Cumorah was in New York.

Of course, that's walking in darkness at noon day. Letter VII and all the confirming teachings of the prophets and apostles are as plain as word can be. Yet, the intellectuals are imposing their falsehoods on the entire Church through their journals and publications, the Visitors Centers, the curriculum, the media, etc.

To confirm their M2C bias, they have invented a Church history narrative that not only is unsupported by historical documents and accounts, but outright contradicts them. This imaginary Church history is being taught at the North Visitors Center on Temple Square, as discussed here:


and here:


It's one thing for the Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City to mislead people about what happened far away in New York, but they have replicated this exhibit in the Visitors Center at the Hill Cumorah in New York!
Hill Cumorah Visitors Center, with Moroni on the
right, burying the plates in the New York hill lds.org
The thousands of visitors to the Hill Cumorah in New York are taught that the hill is important only because Joseph found the plates there.

Nothing in the Cumorah Visitors Center tells visitors (or missionaries) what the prophets and apostles have taught about that sacred location, apart from Moroni's stone box. Instead, the exhibits and artwork teach M2C. 

Visitors are never taught about Mormon's depository or the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.


This display of the "New York hill" (they refuse to call it Cumorah) shows Moroni burying the plates, along with the Liahona and the sword of Laban.

It's absurd on many levels. First, Joseph and Oliver each described the contents of Moroni's stone box in detail: plates, breastplate and interpreters. No one ever said the stone box contained the Liahona and/or the sword of Laban.

This exhibit is pure fiction.

The exhibit is accompanied by a film that actually depicts Moroni putting the Liahona and the sword of Laban into the stone box.

We're supposed to believe that Joseph either (i) carried these objects home, and then to Harmony, and then to Fayette, all without anyone else ever seeing or commenting about them; or (ii) left them in the stone box for several years, where all the people looking for treasure never found them.

Neither scenario is plausible, to say the least.

We all wonder, "Why would Church historians and media employees create this false narrative?"

The answer: M2C.
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If the Visitors Center displays depicted the words of the prophets instead of the words of the intellectuals, we'd see Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) and Moroni's stone box in the same hill. This is what Joseph, Oliver, and all of their contemporaries and successors have taught.

It would look something such as this:

Instead, we get the false narrative that missionaries are forced to teach, even when they know it makes no sense. Members are confused. Investigators find it absurd. 

No one actually believes Joseph found the Liahona and the sword of Laban in Moroni's stone box. 

THIS NARRATIVE RAISES DOUBTS ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE ON DISPLAY IN THESE VISITORS CENTERS.

_____

We return to the question, "Why would Church historians and media employees create this false narrative?"

The reason is the interplay between M2C and D&C 17:1, which promised the Three Witnesses this:

Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.

A basic tenet of M2C dogma is that Mormon's depository is the "real Cumorah," somewhere in southern Mexico. But the Three Witnesses testified they saw the plates in New York, near the Whitmer home in Fayette. The M2C intellectuals claim these witnesses also saw the other artifacts when the angel showed them the plates near Fayette. Therefore, the M2C intellectuals claim, the other artifacts had to also be in Moroni's stone box. 

See how convoluted your dogma gets once you reject the prophets and apostles? This is what we get when we mingle the philosophies of men with scripture.

The prophets and apostles have consistently taught that the depository containing the Liahona, the sword of Laban, and other artifacts and plates was in the same hill in New York from which Joseph got the plates. There was no need for Moroni to transfer these items to the stone box.

If we heeded the words of the prophets and apostles, we would never see such a false narrative in our visitors centers, let alone be expected to teach (and believe) such nonsense.
_____

The Three Witnesses testified only about the plates. Joseph told his parents he was relieved because they saw the plates. And yet, the subsequent verses told the witnesses to testify about what they saw:

2 And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.

And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;

4 And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.

And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them.

Because the Three Witnesses testified only about seeing the plates, are we to infer that they disobeyed the commandment? 

I don't think so.

Notice in verse 1 the "and also" phrase that separates the plates from the other artifacts. It's certainly possible that they saw all these things at the same time and forgot to include them in their formal testimony. Or maybe they were told not to testify of these things after all; i.e., maybe the specific revelation in D&C 17 was superseded by a subsequent, unmentioned and undocumented revelation.

Historians know that David Whitmer later said he, Joseph and Oliver did see all these objects, along with the original plates of brass, the 24 gold plates of Ether, and other plates. This is the account that Church historians and M2C intellectuals rely upon.

Brigham Young and others related accounts by Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith about seeing these objects in Mormon's depository inside the Hill  Cumorah. I think the depository is what David Whitmer was describing; IOW, he saw these objects on a separate occasion from the time when the angel showed him the plates. Of course, it's still possible that he saw all these other objects when he had the Three Witness experience. 

Either way, nothing in any of the accounts supports the idea that Joseph found the Liahona and sword of Laban. That false narrative depicted in the Visitors Centers is purely a fiction contrived to support M2C and repudiate the teachings of the prophets.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What is the M2C "because"?

The most persuasive word in the English language is "because." Studies show that people will do things for others if given a reason.  Robert Cialdini's book Influence gives lots of examples, and there's a good summary here:

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/is-this-single-most-persuasive-word-in-english-language.html?cid=email
_____

If you have a friend, neighbor, Ward member, Seminary or Institute teacher, BYU professor, Church leader, or anyone else who teaches the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography, see if they will give you their "because."

Here is what the M2C proponents are really saying:

"I want you to reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah because...."

Then see how they fill in the blank.

They typically will give a smoke-screen because consisting of rhetoric about the "scholarly consensus" or "Joseph Smith said in the Times and Season." These are all examples of the fake because that Cialdini talks about in his book.

Don't accept a fake because at face value. Press them for the "real because."

The real reason they want you to reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah is because they think the scholars know more than the prophets.

Most of them won't admit that at first, but that's what it always boils down to.

When framed this way, few members of the Church will accept M2C. That's why they always mask their "because" with the smoke screens.

Try it for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ministering and Cumorah

The new emphasis on ministering is awesome. But there is a very serious problem going on that nobody wants to discuss. It has to do with ministering and the Book of Mormon, and the problem has developed because we've veered off the course that Joseph and Oliver established long ago.

LDS scholars have repudiated the prophets, many Church employees have followed their lead, and until we as a people decide to reject the scholars and embrace the prophets, this problem is only going to get worse.
_____

Almost 40 years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson said, "The Book of Mormon is the instrument that God designed to “sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out [His] elect.” (Moses 7:62.) This sacred volume of scripture needs to become more central in our preaching, our teaching, and our missionary work."

October 1988 General Conference, "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,"
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1988/10/flooding-the-earth-with-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

He went on to say,

The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of the electronic media and the mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way.

It's fair to say that the Church has done more to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon over the last 40 years. There are over 160 million copies in print, and essentially infinite numbers of electronic versions. Verses have been posted on social media billions of times.

And yet, what are the results? Not what President Benson anticipated. According to the statistics,

LDS membership growth rates have decelerated to their lowest levels since 1937 at a mere 1.48% during 2017... The number of convert baptisms in 2017 was the lowest reported by the Church since 1987 when there were 227,000 converts baptized.

http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2018/03/2017-statistical-report.html

Why would flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon lead to declining baptisms? Why are most baptisms in areas where people don't speak English and have little access to the Internet?

Because certain LDS intellectuals have repudiated the prophets, and employees in Church departments follow the intellectuals instead of the prophets regarding a key, fundamental point about the Book of Mormon.

Early Church leaders knew the importance of physical evidence as proof of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. During Zion's camp, Joseph Smith  recounted "the history of the Book of Mormon" while passing through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, which he said were "the plains of the Nephites." He described "roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity."

On another occasion, President Cowdery responded to reports that the Latter-day Saints disbelieved the Bible. He wrote, "We believe that sacred record from the evidence we have of its divine authenticity, and because we believe it a consistent book, when taken in its true meaning." (Messenger and Advocate, October 1836, p. 385).

Evidence to support the divine authenticity of the Bible was just as important as evidence to support the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph thought "proof of its divine authenticity" was important during his lifetime, so why would it not be important now?

The answer, of course, is that it is even more important now than ever before.
_____

Apart from Joseph's teachings during Zion's camp, what else did Joseph and Oliver teach about physical evidence?

They taught that the hill Cumorah was in New York.This means the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, Mormon's depository of Nephite records, and Moroni's stone box containing the abridgment of those records.

Certain LDS scholars have rejected the New York Cumorah. Thanks to their efforts, students at BYU and CES, along with Church employees in various Church departments, also reject the New York Cumorah. 

How can a sincere, knowledgeable investigator take the Book of Mormon seriously when LDS intellectuals and employees throughout Church departments teach that our own prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah? 

These LDS intellectuals and employees promote a Mesoamerican setting that claims there are actually two Cumorahs: a false one in New York, and a real one in southern Mexico. To repudiate the prophets, these intellectuals cite illusory "correspondences" between Mayan culture and their strained interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon.

Meanwhile, there is abundant evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. The text itself describes North America. The archaeology, geology and anthropology support what the text and the prophets teach. 

More and more, potential investigators (and many Church members, especially the youth) are saying, "Get your act together on the Book of Mormon first if you want us to take the book seriously."

Once we do this--once we return to the course long established by the prophets about the New York Cumorah--that unity will generate new energy and power as we minister to members and nonmembers. 

Then President Benson's vision will be fulfilled.
We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need. The time is now!

My beloved brothers and sisters, we hardly fathom the power of the Book of Mormon, nor the divine role it must play, nor the extent to which it must be moved.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fairly Mormon

Among the M2C citation cartel, one organization stands out.

It's called FairMormon, formerly known as the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR). You can see their web page here: https://www.fairmormon.org/

I call them Fairly Mormon because while they offer helpful resources and commentary on many LDS issues, they are actively trying to persuade members of the Church to disbelieve the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

It's really a shame because Fairly Mormon's web site has a lot of great resources. If they weren't adamant about forcing M2C onto members of the Church (and investigators) they would provide an invaluable resource. But because of their Mesomania, they refuse to follow the Church's policy on neutrality and reject any presentation of materials that contradict their M2C advocacy.

If you want to observe a who's-who of M2C advocates, Fairly Mormon is having a conference in August. Details here: https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2018#speakers

They aren't the most influential group. Certainly CES, BYU, and COB departments are more influential overall. Last time I checked, at least Fairly Mormon wasn't pushing a fantasy map of the Book of Mormon, or developing M2C displays in the Visitors Centers.

But Fairly Mormon uses a combination of techniques that makes them especially dangerous.

To review, here are the five standard techniques used by all the M2C intellectuals:

1. Suppressing and censoring the words of the prophets.
https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/03/m2c-technique-1-suppressing-and.html

2. Using sophistry to teach that the prophets are wrong.
https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/03/m2c-technique-2-using-sophistry-to.html

3. Causing confusion by conflating separate and distinct teachings of the prophets.
https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/03/technique-3-causing-confusion-by.html

4. Imprinting the M2C theory on the minds of vulnerable students and missionaries (and investigators) through media, artwork, displays, and academic publications.
https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/03/m2c-technique-4-noahs-flood-imprinting.html

5. Dressing the new idea (M2C) in old habits to make it easier to accept.
https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/03/m2c-technique-5-dressing-new-idea-m2c.html

To this list, Fairly Mormon adds these techniques:

1. Using anonymous articles. Fairly Mormon makes lots of statements that sound authoritative because they are anonymous; i.e., an anonymous article doesn't have the "taint" of a particular author's ownership. This is the same technique William Smith used when he published anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that were written by Benjamin Winchester and edited by William and W.W. Phelps.

I've discussed Fairly Mormon several times on this blog. Just go to the search box and type in "FairMormon" and you'll get lots of blog posts.

Here's one of the best examples of Fairly Mormon's tactics:
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Where_is_the_Hill_Cumorah%3F

I have an assessment of that one on my peer reviews page, here:
https://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2018/04/fairly-mormon-on-cumorah.html

2. Exercising strict editorial control. This is related to technique #1 above, but it expands on that by claiming their "answers" are "faithful" and thereby implying that those who disagree with them are not faithful. Fairly Mormon uses sophistry to attack the views of those members of the Church who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

Fairly Mormon will never compare M2C to the Heartland because they know most members of the Church would never accept M2C if they knew what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, along with the archaeological, anthropological, geological and other extrinsic evidence.
_____

All this is to say that we have to be extremely cautious when we use (or refer people to) Fairly Mormon.