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 3, 2023

Kirk Magleby's Geography Guide - Stick of Joseph

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, this post will discuss an important YouTube video from the Stick of Joseph channel.

In my view, Book of Mormon Central (BMC, aka Scripture Central) should welcome a full, open, fair comparison of all the different interpretations of the text. Even if constrained to include only faithful interpretations, such a comparison would eliminate any contention and confusion that persists about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. Such a comparison would elevate the dialog, foster brotherhood and sisterhood (unity in diversity), and enable everyone to make informed decisions.

But as we'll see in this video, BMC continues to refuse to do so. And we can all see why, as I'll explain at the end.

Kirk Magleby on Stick of Joseph

Kirk Magleby is an awesome guy. Like Jack Welch, Kirk is a thoughtful, considerate scholar, a nice guy, and an honorable, friendly individual.

[To their credit, Kirk and Jack never resorts to the logical fallacies and ad hominem tactics of Dan Peterson, Mike Parker (Peter Pan), and their cronies.]

BMC is a classy operation, thanks to the guidance of Kirk and Jack. As I've always said, somewhere between 80-90% of what BMC does is awesome, useful, and positive.

I think they miss the mark only because they insist on M2C and SITH as the only acceptable faithful interpretations of the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. This editorial position deprives their donors, readers, and viewers of the ability to make informed decisions. 

[For new readers, see the definition of M2C and SITH here:


Worse, IMO, is the way BMC continues to elevate scholars over prophets, which we've discussed here many times. 


To his credit, Kirk has done at least two interviews with the YouTube channel "Stick of Joseph." We'll discuss the first video at the end when we discuss reasons why BMC won't compare alternatives.

In his second video interview on the Stick of Joseph channel, Kirk described his geography guide . 


If you watch the video, however, you will see the effect of the M2C mind virus. As much as I love Kirk, it is amazing to see how deeply he has trained his mind to confirm his bias.

At about the 8 minute mark, Kirk refers to the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon to claim that Orson Pratt couldn't make sense of the geography so he suggested there could have been two different cities with the same name.


Then Kirk makes a critical admission:

9:28. "We are making the assumption that there are no double definitions... There's one narrow neck of land... What we're basically saying is if your solution requires a double definition that there be two of one thing with the very same name, we believe that you need to work a little harder and sharpen your pen and go back to the drawing boards and refine your model."

This is critical because Kirk always claims he is relying solely on the text, but as he admits here, he's relying not on the text but on his interpretation of the text.

He then admits that if there is a double definition, that's a "wild card that absolutely could blow us out of the water." 

It's difficult to imagine any objective, rational viewer watching this and not laughing out loud at the absurdity of Kirk's position.

This isn't to say Kirk's position is not rational. It is. But that's doesn't mean it's not absurd.

I have agreed with Kirk all along that, if I agreed with his assumptions, I'd agree with his conclusions. And that's true for everyone's point of view. Whether it's Kirk and Jack, or Orson Pratt, or Dan Vogel or John Dehlin or anyone else, if you agree with their assumptions, you'll agree with their conclusions.

This is axiomatic. Yet Kirk seems to think his approach is somehow different. That's why he and Jack and everyone else at BMC refuse to accommodate alternative interpretations, including alternative faithful interpretations that corroborate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah (instead of repudiating those teachings the way M2C does).

This is what my FAITH model demonstrates.

We all start with the FACTS everyone can agree upon. In this case, take any passage of scripture and we can agree about what the words are.

But then come the ASSUMPTIONS, such as Kirk's "no double definitions" assumption, where people diverge. Then come the INFERENCES and THEORIES, all based on the same facts, that lead to the overall HYPOTHESIS.

Another funny thing about this example is that while Kirk assumes there are "no double definitions," he also assumes that different terms mean the same thing! Thus, he thinks the "narrow neck" is the same thing as the "small neck of land" which is the same thing as the "narrow neck of land." 

In my view, different terms refer to different things, and Mormon/Moroni specified "of land" to distinguish between a neck of water and a neck of land. But I'm happy to acknowledge this is my assumption, and I'm happy to consider multiple working hypotheses based on alternative assumptions.

By contrast, Kirk deems his assumptions to be the only acceptable interpretation.


To be sure, Kirk has explanations for his assumptions. But everyone has explanations for their assumptions. 

Kirk (and Jack) know that it would be easy to set out a comparison table that delineates the FACTS everyone agrees upon, followed by the respective ASSUMPTIONS, INFERENCES, etc. for everyone to see.

But they won't do it. 

Everyone interested in this topic needs to ask, why won't they?

I'll offer three possible reasons below.

But first, let's look at an example from Kirk's presentation.


At about 12 minutes, Kirk gets into a discussion of Manti. He inserts his own interpretations into the narrative such as here:

12:45 we have Captain Moroni who takes a portion of his army goes all the way from jerson which is in the northeastern part of Nephi lands to the the south central part of Nephi lands and he stations his army on either side of the river Sidon in the wilderness south of manti and from his position you could go down into the borders of Manti so it's clear that we're Upstream, we're up River from the borders of manti so that means if your river is Flowing North that means you're south of the river.If your river is Flowing South that means you're north of the river.

Ironically, Kirk complains about "forced readings," but here, Kirk apparently can think of only one interpretation of the text. I can think of several ways to interpret Alma 43. Why can Kirk think of only one? Because he has to force it to fit into his M2C setting.

In this example, despite what Kirk says, it is not "clear that we're upstream" if we're in a position to "go down into the borders of Manti." 

If, as Kirk apparently does, we assume a flat terrain, then yes, we could "go down" in elevation only the same way the river flows. But most rivers flow through uneven terrain. We can have hills or mountains that a river flows past that are higher in elevation than the land from which the river flows. 

An easy example is Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Tennessee river flows through Chattanooga, forming a bend in the city as it flows from north to south (before flowing west and turning north on its way to Illinois). Lookout Mountain is south of the river bend. During the Civil War, it was the scene of a major battle because armies on Lookout Mountain had a commanding view of the city. You would "go down" to Chattanooga from the south, even though the Tennessee river flowed south.

This is obvious to any observer, but not to Kirk because he has the M2C mind virus that can only think in terms of M2C.

Again, to be clear, this is not to criticize Kirk at all. He's awesome. He's smart, thoughtful, and exemplary in every way. The problem is the way the M2C mind virus constrains the ability of M2Cers to think outside the M2C box.

If BMC was a legitimate scholarly enterprise, it would include people with diverse perspectives to point out their M2C myopia.


If you watch the video or read the transcript, you will see many more examples of the M2C mind virus. One classic one appears here, where Kirk once again refers to the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon:

1:06:52 Kirk: go to the topical guide at the back, this is the 1981 Edition, it still had the same notes that had been there ever since the time of Orson Pratt.. changed a few of them but modernized a little bit. 

[What Kirk doesn't mention is that Orson Pratt's footnotes stated as a fact that Cumorah was in New York, while Pratt acknowledged that other geographical terms such as the location of Bountiful was merely speculation. These were all removed in the 1920 edition after RLDS scholar L.E. Hills propose the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.]

Go to Sidon and notice what we put, we published in the Book of Mormon for over 100 years. 

Hayden Paul reads: Sidon River most prominent River in Nephi territory runs runs north to the sea.

[Note: this definition was removed from the official edition because it is an assumption, not something stated in the text, but Kirk doesn't mention that.]

Kirk: that is such a well-established notion that in 1992 when the encyclopedia Mormonism gets published, John Clark who's one of our very best archaeologists, an absolutely amazing brilliant guy yeah I love to read in the literature and see John Clark, John E Clark cited because okay that's one of our our our very best and he cited a lot because he's a prolific scholar. Anyway John Clark authored the the um article in the encyclopedia Mormonism on Book of Mormon geography and he says this is one of the few unambiguously attested  Notions from the text that the River Sidon flowed North.

[Note: lots to unpack here. Briefly, Kirk departs from rationality here. First, Kirk's argument that the "north-flowing Sidon" should be accepted because it was published "for over 100 years" would make it even more important to accept the New York Cumorah, which was also well-established "for over 100 years," except not by scholars but by prophets. Second, Kirk commits the logical fallacy of "appeal to authority" by citing Clark's entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Clark's credentials are irrelevant to the question of what the text says. There's no reason for anyone to pay attention to Clark's opinion when we can all read the text for ourselves, particularly when Clark explicitly rejects what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.* Third, if it was relevant that the Sidon entry was published until 1981, logically it is even more relevant that the Church deleted the entry because the scripture committee realized the text never says Sidon flows north.] 

Kirk: so what would I ask of a Wayne May and a John Lefgren and a Jonathan Neville and a Boyd Tuttle and a Ryan Nelson I'd say show me from the text how how the Mississippi could possibly be the Sidon.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I've agreed with Kirk that there is a north-flowing river from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla. Kirk and the other M2Cers seem to have forgotten about the Tennessee River, which flows north from Tennessee to Illinois and which satisfies the information provided in the text. It's an easy, obvious solution.

Kirk and other M2Cers simply conflate two separate rivers. 

And they don't even seem to realize that they are merely making an assumption when they insist Sidon flows north.

Unbelievable, but just another example of the M2C mind virus.


Next, Kirk talks about his spreadsheet.

1:13:36 when I can get book of Mormon geography to Excel rather than Word now we're cooking with gas. Now we have something we can start hanging our hat out and that Excel spreadsheet had to go to 21 different versions and I had to go get an engineer on board, a very very smart guy's he's a financial analyst but he had to help us on that model on that Excel spreadsheet because it began to exceed my capacity but after 21 editions I have the ability to audit a model in an Excel spreadsheet and come up with a score and there are 229 different relationships. If you take every place where there's an up a down a North a South East a West a Day's Journey or a crossover there are 200 that those appear 229 times in the text. Now suppose you could come up with a model that matches all 220 none of those relationships should we pay attention to that model?

Conceptually and theoretically, it's a nice idea to compile these references into a spreadsheet to keep everything clear. I like the idea. But when I saw this spreadsheet model, I was not surprised to see the M2C assumptions baked into it. It's mostly bias confirmation, as anyone can see when you look at it. 

Underlying the spreadsheet, of course, is the fundamental assumption that Joseph and Oliver (and their contemporaries and successors) were all wrong about the New York Cumorah.

In my view, for faithful Latter-day Saints to assume from the outset that the prophets were wrong as the basis for their interpretation of the Book of Mormon is irrational.

It also seems obviously destructive of faith.

I realize the M2C scholars have rationalized their way out the dilemma of rejecting what Joseph and Oliver said about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. Maybe, if there was no possible way that Joseph and Oliver could have been truthful and accurate and reliable, there would be no alternative to M2C and SITH.

But there are lots of settings with Cumorah in New York that match the descriptions in the text. As this interview demonstrates, M2C is based on mere assumptions.

Everyone can agree on the FACTS. Where we diverge is in our ASSUMPTIONS, INFERENCES, etc.

That brings up the reasons why BMC and other M2C scholars refuse to accommodate comparisons with other faithful interpretations.


The Three Reasons.

Let's discuss the three reasons why BMC continues to deprive donors, readers, and viewers of a fair, complete comparison of alternative faithful interpretations.

In the first interview of the series, Kirk explained how he believes the 1842 Times and Seasons articles show that Joseph Smith didn't know much about Book of Mormon so he learned about the geography from the books by John Lloyd Stevens. Naturally, scholars love the idea of prophets learning from other scholars because that puts scholars above prophets. This is the entire rationale for M2C; i.e., Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators when they claimed Cumorah/Ramah was in New York, so we need to reject what they said and instead rely on scholars who have been trained for the M2C ministry.

This is Reason 1 for refusing to accommodate comparisons. Scholars feel compelled to act as gatekeepers. They think their credentials empower them to decide what those who they consider to be beneath them in terms of credentials may be allowed to know and consider. It's a variation of the idea that when the scholars have decided, the conversation is over. "When they are learned they think they are wise." (2 Nephi 9:28)

Reason 2 is the M2C mind virus that prevents the M2C scholars from realizing they are engaged in pure bias confirmation. Not that others don't, of course. But bias confirmation is not a serious justification for depriving Latter-day Saints (and friends) of information they need to make informed decisions. This is a step beyond the ordinary academic arrogance that scholars use to justify their role as gatekeepers. In this situation, the M2C scholars are misleading and misinforming the Latter-day Saints, including their students and donors, as well as their readers and viewers.

Reason 3 is the reality that M2C scholars understand, at some level, that a comparison chart would expose the fundamental fallacies of M2C. These are not logical fallacies, necessarily. M2C logically flows from the underlying assumptions. But it's the incongruence between M2C and the teachings of the prophets that is irrational to believers. Most Latter-day Saints naturally prefer to corroborate the teachings of the prophets over repudiating those teachings. Once people learn what the prophets have taught about Cumorah, and how the extrinsic evidence corroborates those teachings, they usually embrace settings that incorporate the New York Cumorah.

The M2C mind virus persists and spreads only in an environment of ignorance and misdirection. 

That said, I'm find with people making an fully informed decision to embrace M2C if they want to. But as Kirk demonstrates in this video, we will probably never see BMC reach the point of fully and fairly informing its donors, readers and viewers for the three reasons we just reviewed.


* John Clark is a great guy, but his scholarship on the Book of Mormon has lots of holes, as I've discussed several times on this blog. Just search for "Clark" on this blog to find several posts.

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