long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Simplicity revised

One of the most popular posts on this blog was titled "Simplicity." I originally posted it on May 26, 2016. I'm reposting it here, with some additional material.


William of  Ockham
The simplest explanation is usually the best, a principle often described as Occam's razor. "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

On the topic of Book of Mormon geography, which setting requires the fewest assumptions?

Which explanation is the simplest?

The New York  Cumorah has one assumption.

1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the place where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations were destroyed and the location of the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6). 

The historical record shows us that Moroni told Joseph the name of the hill the first time they met. Joseph and Oliver visited the repository of Nephite records in the hill (which was separate from Moroni's stone box). 

Everything directly attributable to Joseph and Oliver is consistent with that setting. The text of the Book of Mormon, as well as extrinsic scientific evidence, corroborates that setting.

Contrary ideas that Cumorah is not in New York are not directly attributable to them; therefore, these contrary ideas were produced by other people who didn't know (or didn't believe) what Joseph and Oliver knew and taught.

Modern LDS scholars such as Jack Welch and Dan Peterson and their followers reject the New York Cumorah because it conflicts with their personal theories that the setting of the Book of Mormon events is in Mesoamerica. While they recognize the historical references to Cumorah, they rationalize that there are "two Cumorahs" with a false one in New York and the real one in southern Mexico.

The Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory (M2C) relies on a series of assumptions:

1. Joseph Smith didn't know where the Book of Mormon events took place.

2. Joseph misled his mother Lucy Mack Smith when he told her what Moroni told him about Cumorah and when he referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates; or else Lucy misremembered or misled her readers when she dictated her history.

3. Oliver Cowdery (or another unknown person) at some unspecified date started a false folk tradition that Cumorah was in New York, based on an incorrect assumption. 

4. David Whitmer reported meeting the messenger who was taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah, but either the messenger lied, or David lied about that meeting or conflated his own specific memory of the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" with Oliver's folk tradition.

5. Joseph misled his wife Emma when he wrote to her about crossing the plains of the Nephites after he'd crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

6. As Assistant President of the Church, Oliver misled everyone when he memorialized the false folk tradition in Letter VII in July 1835, published in the Messenger and Advocate. 

7. Joseph, for unexplained reasons, passively adopted Oliver's false speculation, had it copied into his personal journal as part of his life history, and specifically encouraged its re-publication in the Gospel Reflector and Times and Seasons, while his brother William republished it in The Prophet.

8. Oliver lied to Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, David Whitmer, etc. when he told them about visiting the repository of Nephite records in the hill Cumorah in New York; or else these witnesses lied about what Oliver told them.

9. Joseph, who wrote very little himself, nevertheless wrote a series of lengthy articles in the Times and Seasons about Central America in 1842 that he left anonymous for unknown reasons. Although the articles didn't mention Cumorah, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills determined that Cumorah cannot be in New York because of these articles. He published the first M2C map in 1917

10. In September, 1842, Joseph misled everyone when he specifically referred to Cumorah in a signed letter published in the Times and Seasons (now D&C 128:20), because he referred to the hill in New York from which the "glad tidings" came as Cumorah.

11. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others of Joseph's contemporaries and successors misled everyone because they believed what Joseph and Oliver about the hill Cumorah. 

12. Certain LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, Jack Welch, and their followers have corrected the false tradition perpetrated by Joseph and Oliver because they, the scholars, know more about Cumorah than Joseph and Oliver did. These modern M2C scholars have determined that L.E. Hills' map is correct after all, albeit with minor corrections.

13. Anyone who still believes what Joseph, Oliver and their associates taught about the New York Cumorah is either ignorant, an apostate or is verging on apostasy.

14. Etc.

Which set of assumptions makes the most sense to you?


Here are some relevant quotations about simplicity.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein

To which Groucho Marx replied:

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
― Groucho Marx

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
― Isaac Newton

“Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them.”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

“People who pride themselves on their "complexity" and deride others for being "simplistic" should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”
― Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays

“..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. and when the answer is simple, then God is answering.”
― Albert Einstein

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