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.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Following the evidence where it leads

Regarding the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, people like to say they "follow the evidence where it leads."

Yet people go to different places, all the while claiming they are simply "following the evidence."

How does that work?

It's simple. 

People pursue the evidence that confirms their biases and ignore or rationalize away non-confirming evidence. Then they write articles and produce videos to support their biases, usually without acknowledging alternative explanations.

That's why, on this blog, we favor full disclosure and recognition of multiple working hypotheses so people can make their own informed decisions. We encourage everyone interested in this topic to do the same. But so far, the M2Cers and the critics refuse to do so.

After all, "no more contention" begins with clarity. Once we have clarity, we can apply charity and seek understanding of the alternative perspectives. Then there is no room for contention. We can all understand one another without feeling compelled to seek conformity, compliance, or coercion of any sort.

Let's clarify the meaning of "following the evidence." 

And again, as I often reiterate, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. I just encourage people to make informed decisions for themselves.

Beliefs about the setting of the Book of Mormon fall within three categories of conclusions or hypotheses, each supported by "following the evidence." 

1. Cumorah/Ramah is in western New York. 
(e.g., Heartlanders)

2. Cumorah/Ramah is not in western New York. 
(e.g., M2Cers such as Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, and FAIRLDS, M2C being the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory)

3. Cumorah/Ramah is not a real place
(e.g., nonbelieving critics such as CES Letter, John Dehlin, Mormonism Unvailed, etc.) 

How could such diverse outcomes arise from "following" the identical "evidence" or facts?

It's easy to understand when we use the FAITH model.

Facts. Everyone can see that the historical record includes the claim that Cumorah/Ramah is the same hill in western New York where Joseph found the plates. This record includes statements by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, all of their contemporaries, and every successor in Church leadership who has addressed the topic. [For an overview, see https://www.mobom.org/cumorah-overview.]

Based on the identical evidence, people diverge depending on their assumptions about the facts.

Using the same categories identified above, we can see how their respective assumptions about the identical facts drive their respective conclusions. IOW, they all claim to be "following the evidence" but we can clearly see they are actually following their own assumptions about the evidence.


1. Cumorah/Ramah is in western New York because (i) the historical record about Cumorah is accurate and (ii) those who made the claim were correct because they either (a) had personal knowledge or (b) believed those who did have personal knowledge.

2. Cumorah/Ramah is not in western New York because (i) the historical record about Cumorah is inaccurate and/or (ii) those who made the claim were incorrect because they were speculating without knowledge or revelation.

3. Cumorah/Ramah is not a real place because, whether or not the historical record is accurate about what people said about Cumorah, the Book of Mormon is fiction; i.e., those who made the claim were delusional, speculating, or lying.  

With clarity about their respective assumptions about the facts, we can see that each group proceeds to follow their assumptions about the facts, not the facts themselves. IOW, facts are not self-executing. People interpret the facts to suit their own biases.

Once we have clarity about the assumptions people make about the facts, it's easy to see how they follow those assumptions, which become "evidence" in their minds. Then, each group draws Inferences and develops Theories to further explain how they rationalize that they are "following the evidence" all the way to their overall Hypothesis or conclusion.

In reverse order:

3. For the critics, their assumption that everyone was lying about the Restoration makes it easy to reject all the claims. Then they can find extrinsic evidence that contradicts or refutes the hypotheses of the other groups. 

2. For the M2Cers, their assumption that everyone was merely "speculating" about the New York Cumorah/Ramah makes it easy for them to substitute their own ideas. Unbound by the New York Cumorah/Ramah (framing it as a "false tradition"), they are free to interpret the text of the Book of Mormon to fit whatever setting they prefer, whether Mesoamerica, Panama, South America, Baja, Eritrea, Malaysia, or anywhere else. BYU faculty even developed a fantasy map to explain the text. Then they can find extrinsic evidence that "corresponds" or "converges" with their assumptions to support their overall hypotheses. 

1. For the Heartlanders, their assumption that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries and successors were correct limits their flexibility. With the New York Cumorah/Ramah as "fact" or a "pin in the map," they consult the text and extrinsic evidence and make a variety of assumptions, inferences and theories that lead to their respective hypotheses. Then they can find extrinsic evidence that "corresponds" or "converges" with their assumptions to support their overall hypotheses. 

In my view, the only rational alternatives are 1 and 3. It seems to me that Joseph and Oliver either told the truth or they didn't. 

I recognize that plenty of smart, educated, faithful Latter-day Saint scholars (and their followers) thread the needles of deciding which statements by Joseph and Oliver are credible and reliable and which are not. They make a plausible, rational case for M2C--once you assume that Joseph and Oliver were wrong. (Some scholars try to frame their position as driven by evidence that makes what Joseph and Oliver taught impossible, but of course that's putting the cart before the horse. M2C starts with rejecting what Joseph and Oliver taught.)

Having been such a follower for decades, I empathize with M2Cers. However, in my case, I was ignorant of what Joseph and Oliver (and their contemporaries and successors) actually taught.

Plus, I was persuaded by all the "evidence" M2Cers cite.  

But then, once I learned what Joseph and Oliver taught, it became apparent that the evidence to support M2C was illusory. It was (and is) all accumulated and arranged to justify the initial assumption that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

This became even more obvious once I learned of all the extrinsic evidence that corroborates and supports the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

That's why, for me, ...

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