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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book of Mormon Scholarship

One of my favorite bloggers has posted a couple of gems lately. One we'll discuss now is titled "Quality Book of Mormon Scholarship." Another is "Dead Prophets," which we'll discuss tomorrow.

Coming from the Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central Censor (BOMCC), a guy I really like, respect and admire but just happen to disagree with on a couple of points, it is a predictable (and probably necessary for BOMCC) justification for, and defense of, censorship. In this case, censorship is framed as a filter based on "quality." Let's take a look at this "quality" filter.

In this post, I'm focusing on a major subset of Book of Mormon scholarship; i.e., work produced by those scholars who promote M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

Censorship is essentially an appeal to authority, which is basically all M2C has going for it.

We're expected to believe M2C because the M2C experts tell us they're right. That's the classic appeal to authority. But when you look at any of the M2C papers, books, videos, etc., you quickly see additional logical fallacies--usually in the first paragraph.

The notion that some objective measure of "quality" is decisive is an illusion. All Book of Mormon scholarship is ultimately subjective, as we can see from the comparable example of Biblical scholarship (discussed below), but this is especially true of M2C scholarship.

That said, it is important to assess the credibility, reliability, and accuracy of anyone's work. Errors of fact or logic ought to be pointed out and discussed. Assumptions should be made clear and explicit.

This is where M2C Book of Mormon scholarship fails. 

The fundamental premise that drives all M2C scholarship is a shared belief that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah. But the M2C scholars rarely, if ever, state that assumption clearly and explicitly so their readers understand the bias they seek to confirm.

Instead, the M2C intellectuals bury their bias in a word salad that mixes the clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching about the New York Cumorah with the equally clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching from the prophets and apostles that we don't know for sure where the other events in the Book of Mormon took place.

Furthermore, the M2C bias against the teachings of the prophets is purely a subjective decision. They frame it as "evidence based" because that looks like "quality" scholarship, but their bias is merely the result of circular reasoning, based on their a priori conclusion that Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica.

The "Quality Book of Mormon Scholarship" blog post is unintentionally ironic because it completely ignores what real experts on Mesoamerica think, which is that M2C is nonsense.

"Quality data"
The only scholars who still promote M2C are the ones who have sunk costs in M2C (mostly at BYU) and those who defer to them.

Take any M2C publication and ask a non-M2C Mesoamerican scholar to plot it on the "quality data" chart featured in the blog post. If they can plot the M2C publication at all, it will be in those little blocks on each end titled "Very un-likely observations."

Despite all the M2C content produced by self-described M2C experts, the entire M2C theory is pure confirmation bias based on illusory evidence. 

That's why no one outside the M2C bubble believes it.

The tragedy of M2C is its fundamental premise (bias) that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Everything else M2C teaches is designed to confirm that bias. 

What qualifies someone to write for the M2C citation cartel? The blog post lists 7 "quality" elements, but it omits the only true qualification.

To be part of the M2C citation cartel, the fundamental requirement is that you repudiate the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

Rejecting the teachings of the prophets and apostles is the one thing all M2C intellectuals agree upon. 

It's what qualifies them as M2C intellectuals. It's the driving force behind everything published by Book of Mormon Central Censor that relates to geography.

With repudiation of the prophets as their fundamental premise, it's no surprise the M2C intellectuals have to rely on logical fallacies, illusory evidence, and their private interpretations of the text that are designed to validate their theories--one of the best examples of circular reasoning you'll find anywhere.

That said, beyond M2C, many LDS scholars do great work. Even the Interpreter publishes some good material. I refer to Book of Mormon Central Censor for lots of things, especially Royal Skousen's books. (I'm increasingly skeptical about some of the other material on BOMCC, but I don't have time to get into that here.)

The list of "quality" criteria in this blog post looks like something the scribes and Pharisees would have enforced. In New Testament times, they ran a citation cartel no different from the one being run by today's M2C intellectuals, complete with content-based censorship.

How, then, should we assess Book of Mormon scholarship?

There are useful comparisons with Biblical scholarship. For centuries, scholars have debated the meaning, origins, and application of the Bible. Equally "qualified" experts reach many different conclusions on various details. They propose completely different interpretations. In some cases, they formed new churches based on the product of their scholarship. Some think the Bible is an authentic history; others consider it a compilation of myths.

Biblical scholars debate their respective credentials, experience, expertise, and other qualifications, as well as the content of their work.

Much of what we observe in Biblical scholarship is also true of Book of Mormon scholarship, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Like Biblical scholars, M2C scholars engage in debate and disagree about various details and interpretations. However, they all agree that the prophets and apostles are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

In my view, that disqualifies their work, regardless of any purported "quality" filter.

The only trustworthy Book of Mormon scholarship is scholarship that embraces, not repudiates, the teachings of the prophets.  

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