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.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Illusions and M2C

People continue to ask how anyone can still believe in M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). The short answer is that it's an illusion that M2C believers accept because it confirms their biases, as I'll explain below.

The overriding assumption behind M2C, the assumption that everything rests upon, is that the prophets and apostles are wrong. Once you accept that assumption, you have no constraints.

Using the methodology of the M2C intellectuals, it would be difficult to find a place anywhere in the world that would not "qualify" as a setting for the Book of Mormon. You just make an assumption (in this case Mesoamerica) and then interpret the text to conform to whatever evidence you can find, no matter how illusory.

The other day we went hiking on a mountain to see, from the ground, one of the most famous natural illusions in the world: the underwater waterfall.

The water is actually quite shallow here. At low tide you could walk all the way to the outer reef if you wanted. When we snorkel during low tide it's almost too shallow to swim over the coral and sea weed.

While the sea is deeper beyond the coral rim (where the breakers are), there is no actual "underwater waterfall" as the photo suggests.

It's an illusion.

This article explains how the illusion works.


I took this selfie so you can see what the area looks like from the ground. You can see there is no actual underwater waterfall.

I had a similar experience with a major illusion years ago when I toured ancient Mayan sites in Central America.

They were not what I expected after having read M2C literature for decades. M2C is entirely an illusion.

M2C became widely accepted by LDS intellectuals and their students because it's an effective illusion constructed with a combination of two elements:

1. A mistake in Church history; and

2. Intellectual arrogance and confirmation bias.

As one of the students (victims) of M2C scholars myself, I can explain from my own experience why I actually believed in M2C for decades.

The last big secret in Church History
1. Through all my years as a seminary and BYU student, I never learned what the prophets and apostles taught about the New York Cumorah. I never heard about Letter VII. I may have heard or read some isolated teachings about Cumorah, but my M2C professors emphasized that Joseph Smith himself believed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America, thanks to the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons.

Now, of course, I realize that was a mistake--a false interpretation of Church history. Joseph never once connected the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

The initial premise for M2C is nothing more than a mistaken inference that Joseph Smith wrote, or endorsed, what was actually someone else's speculation about Book of Mormon geography.

What I find fascinating is the way the M2C intellectuals (including Church historians) are dealing with this historical mistake.

Rather than re-assess their long-held views, they have doubled down on the error. They have perpetuated the myth that Joseph Smith changed his mind about the New York Cumorah. They have tried to frame Letter VII itself as a mistake. 

And now they have formally falsified Church history in Saints by portraying characters who never even heard of the Hill Cumorah.

Today's students, and future generations, will be even more ignorant of the teachings of the prophets and apostles than I was. This is especially ironic in the Internet age.

The tragedy is, unless there is a course correction, today's youth are more likely to learn the truth from anti-Mormon critics than from their CES, BYU and other Church-affiliated teachers.

This is all the worse because CES is otherwise a wonderful institution. I enthusiastically support everything CES does, with the sole exception of teaching the Book of Mormon by using fantasy maps that teach students the prophets are wrong.

2. My M2C teachers in Seminary and BYU persuaded me to believe the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. They did so sincerely, because that is what they had been taught by their BYU/CES teachers. 

Naturally, everything they read from the M2C citation cartel confirmed their bias.

Naively, I believed my BYU/CES teachers knew more than the prophets.

As I mentioned in my last post, today's students are being misled by their M2C teachers just as much as I was.

I created this short video to show how current BYU professors respond to the teachings of the prophets.

It is difficult to think of something that is more destructive to faith than to have an active LDS youth attend Seminary, Institute, or a BYU campus, where everything is positive and faith-affirming, only to be taught that the prophets and apostles are wrong whenever they disagree with the scholars.

Yet that is exactly what is going on right now.

The M2C illusion; there are no black
dots in this image, just as there is no
evidence of the Book of Mormon in
ancient Mesoamerica
M2C is a powerful illusion. For a BYU or CES student, it's easy to accept. As a student, you hear only the M2C interpretation of the text. You see only the M2C maps. You read only the M2C materials that explain how only Mesoamerica fits the "requirements" of the Book of Mormon.

If you read materials by FairlyMormon, Book of Mormon Central Censor or BYU Studies, your M2C bias will be repeatedly confirmed. Those organizations and other members of the M2C citation cartel engage in consistent and stringent censorship to make sure readers learn only about things that confirm M2C.

They never reproduce or write about the teachings of the prophets, Letter VII, etc., except to persuade readers to disbelieve the prophets.

Lately, these M2C scholars are claiming they have been hired by the prophets to guide members of the Church, so that criticizing or even questioning these scholars constitutes rebellion against Church leaders.

Naturally, today's students accept whatever these scholars say. Put yourself in their place. What choice do you have?

Everything contrary to M2C has been censored, including in Saints.

Along with everything else one learns at college, you have faithful, smart, well-educated teachers who softly whisper that the prophets were merely giving their opinions as mere uninformed men when they spoke about the New York Cumorah.
BYU fantasy map that teaches
the prophets are wrong

Such naive opinions pale in comparison to the extensive scholarship and widespread consensus that supports M2C.

On top of that, to support M2C, CES and BYU developed "abstract maps" of the Book of Mormon geography that frame the scriptures as having taken place in a fantasy land.

All BYU and CES students are required to use these maps to study the Book of Mormon.

The people who developed these maps claim they are based on the text of the Book of Mormon.
Original John Sorenson map

Of course, they are not based on the text.

Instead, they are based on a specific interpretation of the text, created by a consensus of M2C scholars.

No one who disagrees with M2C was consulted in the development of these maps. No one who still believes the prophets and apostles was consulted in the development of these maps.

Instead, they were based on the map developed by Brother John Sorenson, a long-time BYU professor who strongly advocated M2C. The M2C intellectuals merely turned Brother Sorenson's map by about 45 degrees and added cooler graphics to appeal to the video-game generation.

Now, CES and BYU teach the Book of Mormon as the equivalent of the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings, except with moral lessons and a testimony that it is "true," even though it took place in a fantasy land.

All the while explaining, quietly, that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

John Sorenson, a long-time BYU professor, wrote several books and articles about M2C. Probably his most famous book is Mormon's Codex, a book published by Deseret Book and strongly endorsed by LDS intellectuals across many disciplines.

Brother Sorenson has been very persuasive. Most leading intellectuals in the Church defer to his work on matters of Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

For example, Brother Terryl Givens wrote the Foreword to the book. The entire M2C citation cartel embraces Brother Sorenson's interpretation of the text, although they disagree with him (and among themselves) on some of the details.

Let's look at some quotations from the book Mormon's Codex to see how and why the book is based on pure illusion, enforced by intellectual arrogance and confirmation bias.

Original in blue, my comments in red. Bolded emphasis mine.

Terryl Givens' Foreword:
[N]o one doubts the Old World setting and ancient origins of the Old and New Testaments. Until such time as a preponderance of evidence provides comparable historical plausibility for the Book of Mormon's ancient origin, no one can expect scholars to consider the book as anything other than a nineteenth-century cultural artifact.

This is a fine, concise explanation of the importance of this issue, which in my view explains why Joseph and Oliver wrote and published Letter VII in the first place. But there's another important point here. Thanks to the academic cycle, what scholars believe soon becomes what students believe. Notice that Givens did not limit his observations to non-LDS scholars. I know lots of people, including active LDS, who don't think the Book of Mormon is an actual history. M2C is not rectifying that problem. In fact, far from convincing non-LDS scholars, M2C leaves such scholars even more dubious of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. At least a North American setting is consistent with (i) the teachings of LDS prophets and apostles and (ii) the relevant sciences. 

If such a time is to come, it will arrive in large measure through the efforts of John Sorenson, who has done more than any Latter-day Saint scholar to shift the terms of the Book of Mormon debates... 

Readers know that I mentioned Brother Sorenson in my introduction to Moroni's America because I agree he has made a major contribution by describing the text in a real world setting. However, by shifting the terms of the debates away from the New York Cumorah to a Mexican Cumorah, he has done more than anyone else to repudiate the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

Sorenson aims to make it intellectually respectable for academics to consider the Book of Mormon to be a translation of an authentic ancient American codex, or what he calls "a historically valid record."

Here, Brother Givens sort of implies that non-LDS academics are among those who consider the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient American codex, but I'm unaware of a single example. 

The term "academics" is a euphemism for the M2C citation cartel, the self-appointed people who decide for "ordinary members of the Church" what is and what is not "intellectually respectable." Of course, the M2C citation cartel is the only group of "academics" who accept Brother Sorenson's M2C framing; those who don't accept M2C are deemed not "intellectual respectable," which justifies censorship of their work. 

So influential has Sorenson's work on Book of Mormon geography been that there is a widespread consensus among believing scholars in support of what is now called the "Sorenson model," which identifies the scripture's setting with a Mesoamerican locale.

Here is the description of the M2C citation cartel. If you're a "believing scholar," you must accept the Sorenson model. Givens infers a broad definition of "believing" here, to connote believers in the Book of Mormon generally, but in reality his term is circular; i.e., those who believe in M2C accept the "widespread consensus," but those scholars who believe in the Book of Mormon but don't believe in M2C don't accept the consensus. One wonders if Givens, as an M2C scholar himself, is even aware of those who don't accept M2C.

This framing is part of the justification for the ongoing, persistent censorship of anything that doesn't support M2C, including the tragedy of Saints.  

John Sorenson, Preface
This book presents a wide array of evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient historical record that could only have been produced by a writer who lived in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and northern Central America) many centuries before Spanish explorers reached that area.

This is Brother Sorenson's first sentence of the book and it reveals the bias the entire book seeks to confirm. One of the reasons M2C depends on illusory "correspondences" and confirmation bias is the unwillingness (or inability) of M2C advocates to consider alternative interpretations of the text and the evidence. In other words, Mormon's Codex is an advocacy text, akin to a legal argument. It is in no sense objective or even-handed, despite its framing as "academic." 

And really, M2C itself boils down to circular reasoning. It starts with the assumption that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica because of the Times and Seasons articles, which means there must be evidence in Mesoamerica. Next, Brother Sorenson assembles isolated tidbits of "evidence" ("correspondences") to support the assumption, inventing interpretations of the text that align with these correspondences, all to prove the original assumption was correct.

This is why non-LDS (and non-M2C) scholars find Mormon's Codex completely unpersuasive. 

But when you read Mormon's Codex as a peer, friend, colleague of Brother Sorenson's, and you see how completely confident he is that the Book of Mormon could only have been produced by a Mesoamerican author, you have to agree with him. You have no reason not to. His acknowledgment emphasizes the sacrifices and contributions made by his family and a host of colleagues, thereby cementing the confirmation bias.

John Sorenson, Introduction
This study demonstrates that the immediate source for the Book of Mormon was a Mesoamerican native book, or codex, produced by authors who lived in southern Mexico more than 1,500 years ago. Hundreds of statements in the Book of Mormon constitute "Mesoamericanisms"... That information could have been provided only by men with a detailed knowledge of the natural setting, history, and social and cultural milieu of southern Mexico and northern Central America gained by prolonged personal experience in that area.

Notice the lack of normal academic modesty. Mormon's Codex is not a theory or proposal; it is the only possible explanation for the Book of Mormon. 

This rhetorical technique is highly persuasive to those who seek to confirm their biases. It creates a sense of obviousness that, to someone who does not share the bias, is transparently phony. As you read Mormon's Codex, you see this pattern repeated constantly. One is reminded of Shakespeare's "the lady doth protest too much, methinks." 

If the evidence were anywhere near as conclusive as Brother Sorenson and the M2C citation cartel want us to believe, the evidence would speak for itself far more powerfully than this rhetoric.

Given those cultural and historical elements that appear in the Book of Mormon, the only acceptable explanation is that Joseph Smith had in his possession a native Mesoamerican codex that he translated into English.

Recall, Mormon's Codex was published by Deseret Book, which heavily promoted the book. It was endorsed not only by Terryl Givens but by many other LDS scholars and intellectuals. I'm unaware of any who objected to it or who criticized its main conclusions about M2C. 

Plus, Mormon's Codex was cited in the Gospel Topics essay on DNA (the one that also teaches Darwinian evolution). See note 6 here: https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng

All of this has led to a quasi-official endorsement of Mormon's Codex, including M2C. 

Imagine you're a student at CES or BYU. Your teachers fully endorse M2C. They teach you Book of Mormon events using an "abstract" fantasy map based on the one in Mormon's Codex. You never hear anything that contradicts or challenges M2C. If you're diligent and you discover the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah on your own, your teachers will all tell you the prophets were merely speculating and they were wrong.

You're left with two alternatives: M2C or the Book of Mormon is fiction, based on the fantasy maps you're being taught.

The possibility that the prophets and apostles taught the truth about Cumorah isn't even an option.

Where does that leave you as a missionary, parent, or Church leader?  

From Jerusalem they [the family of Lehi] traveled through western Arabia to the south coast of that peninsula. There they constructed a ship in which they sailed across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the west coat of Central America... The Nephites were finally exterminated as a social or cultural entity by Lamanite foes around ad 380 in southern Mexico... They [the Mulekites] also settled in southern Mexico near where, and at about that same time as, the Jaredites met their demise early in the sixth century bc.

Notice how Brother Sorenson states his theory as fact and weaves it into what the text actually says. This is a clever example of mingling the philosophies of men with scripture.

Brother Sorenson's comments about the destruction of the Jaredites in southern Mexico is a direct, intentional repudiation of the teachings of the prophets and apostles, but he wisely never brings up that contrast. Instead, he writes, 

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. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.

Among these "Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York" are President Joseph Fielding Smith, President Marion G. Romney, Elder James E. Talmage, Elder LeGrand Richards, and many others who declared, in their writings and in General Conference, this "idea" that our M2C scholars have denounced as "manifestly absurd."

Those of us who have dealt most extensively with this issue are confident from the evidence in the text that the area is Mesoamerica broadly... 

There is no "evidence in the text," of course; such evidence is purely an outcome-oriented interpretation of the text. That's why there are dozens of maps, including many variations of M2C. No two people can possibly derive an identical "abstract" map because the information in the text is too vague. 

Developing an "abstract map" by consensus is a fool's errand because people reaching an agreement about an interpretation is not the same as a "correct" interpretation. This is the council of Springville I wrote about, and the problem is especially relevant when all the people involved with the consensus--the M2C citation cartel members--have already reached their own consensus about how to interpret the text. 

Furthermore, when Brother Sorenson writes about those who "have dealt most extensively with this issue," he does not include anyone who disagrees with M2C. This is breathtaking academic myopia. Mormon's Codex was written from within the M2C bubble to confirm the biases of those within the same bubble, but thanks to how it was promoted and endorsed, the book expanded the bubble to absorb teachers at CES and BYU, and from there it expanded to encompass most members of the Church. 

... were we to assume an incorrect location for the cultures documented in the Book of Mormon, our search for parallels in the scholarly record would be futile to begin with, for we would be looking at the wrong archaeological data.

Here is as good a description of circular reasoning as you are going to find anywhere. The M2C intellectuals actually think that the "parallels" they have found prove they did not assume an incorrect location. 

If you read Mormon's Codex or any of the work of the M2C citation cartel, you'll notice this same pattern. They cite a specific fact as a "correspondence" to their interpretation of the text, and then claim they're looking in the correct location because they found the evidence. But so far, every "correspondence" they've described is either a ubiquitous component of human society (such as banners or flags) or applies to the text only because of their own subjective interpretation (such as the term "tower" in the text meaning a massive stone Mayan pyramid). 

A large number of convergences or correspondences between the information from Mesoamerican studies and that from the Book of Mormon are presented in the following chapters. Their number and nature show beyond question that the Book of Mormon had to come from an ancient Mesoamerican document.

One of the biggest puzzles in Mormon's Codex is how statements such as this made it past an editor. The number of so-called "convergences" is irrelevant when every one is illusory. 

Worse, if this evidence proved the thesis "beyond question," then no one could doubt it. But there are literally zero Mesoamerican experts (outside a handful of LDS scholars) who accept the "evidence" for the purposes Brother Sorenson claims. 

This rhetoric is consistent with one concept, though: the notion that the prophets have hired the scholars to guide members of the Church, which means that at least for Church members who sustain the prophets, the scholars' conclusions are "beyond question."

I'm not saying Mormon's Codex is the only source for the belief among young M2C scholars that their mentors cannot be questioned, but this rhetoric certainly helps fuel the fire of misplaced zeal.

Sorenson, Chapter 2

[Sorenson's abstract map] is the most accurate version constructed thus far of the geography Mormon had in his mind.

This one is another question for the editor (assuming there was an editor). How does mind-reading make its way into an academic book?

Notice the layers of problems here. First, we're missing the Book of Lehi, a volume that covered Lehi's journey from Jerusalem to the New World all the way through King Mosiah's discovery of the people of Zarahemla. It's possible that Mormon's abridgment of the Book of Lehi said nothing about the geography, but given the rest of his abridgment, it seems far more likely that Mormon based his geographical references in Mosiah through Mormon on what he had already established in the abridged Book of Lehi. 

Brother Sorenson is taking a subset of Mormon's geographical references and interpreting them to determine what Mormon had in his mind. That's like taking the last two thirds of Hamlet and inferring the events of the first third accurately.

Nephi's original record gives few geographical references, especially about the New World. 

In terms of accuracy, notice in the following excerpts the assumptions Sorenson makes:

Book of Mormon textual references to not allow much leeway in placing geographic features in relation to one another. 

Most of the directions are vague; i.e., northward. Often distances are given in terms of "many days." How could a text give more leeway than this?

For instance, arriving at a figure for the separation in miles between the city of Zarahemla and the city of Nephi depends on certain limiting facts about particular journeys. 

Sorenson relies on accounts from the Book of Mosiah, which never mention the city of Zarahemla. Instead, the text refers to the land of Zarahemla, or just Zarahemla. He simply infers there was a city, and then claims there is no leeway.

Accounts of travel by groups between the two cities report (or imply) that a party of ancient travelers (at least one time including women, children, and flocks) required about 22 days to make the trip, 

Because the text doesn't claim travel between the two cities, any implications are pure speculation.

much of it evidently through mountainous terrain. 

Nowhere does the text state or imply that the terrain was mountainous until it refers to the Gadianton robbers, and even then the text appears to refer to small "mountains" from which the robbers could easily and quickly "sally forth."

Assuming (on the basis of travel data from a time before motor vehicles came into use) that such a party would be limited to traveling a certain number of miles per day, we arrive at a plausible total number of miles separating the two, a distance on the order of 180 miles (290 km). 

People have debated the details of this final "assumption" with no possible resolution because the text simply does not provide the necessary detail.

This list of assumptions that Brother Sorenson claims "do not allow much leeway" are pure confirmation bias. He has decided on a setting--Mesoamerica--and then interpreted the text to meet his assumption. Nothing about this is academically rigorous, let alone "most accurate" or "beyond question."

Mormon's Codex is replete with this type of phony conclusiveness. How this book became the foundation for CES/BYU curriculum, and the justification for the revisionist Church historians who created a false narrative in Saints and are systematically censoring actual Church history to promote M2C, is a topic for another blog post.

Meanwhile, whenever you read something published by the M2C citation cartel, or anything that cites their work, be on the lookout for this type of confirmation bias and illusory evidence.

And above all, measure what you read by the standard of the teachings of the prophets and apostles. Whenever a scholar, LDS or otherwise, tells you the prophets are wrong because they disagree with what the scholar believes, I encourage you to stick with the prophets and apostles.

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