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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Tyler Griffin's cognitive dissonance

The other day I was astonished to watch what Tyler Griffin said on the Hello Saints channel with Christian Pastor Jeff McCullough. 

Jeff has been working his way through the Book of Mormon. He's going through the last three books with Tyler.

I highly commend both Tyler and Jeff for sharing their exchange. We all hope for more conversations such as this because they lead to "no more contention" through clarity, charity and understanding.

(click to enlarge)

Tyler is awesome. So is Jeff. Both are great guys, sincere, devoted, capable, polished, doing lots of good in the world, exemplary, professional, etc. During their conversation, Tyler and Jeff openly and cordially exchanged their points of view and interpretations of the text.

What struck me during their interview was the level of cognitive dissonance Tyler demonstrated when asked about Cumorah.

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, let's use this conversation to illustrate the ongoing problem that arises when people avoid clarity because of cognitive dissonance.

As always, we charitably assume that Tyler and Jeff are sincere and well meaning. We seek to understand, not to persuade. We're fine with people believing whatever they want.

But "no more contention" has to start with clarity or the conversations are illusory diversions and avoidance that solve nothing.

As always, originals in blue, my comments in red.


For those unfamiliar with the term "cognitive dissonance," we can use the wikipedia explanation. 

Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency to function mentally in the real world. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance. They tend to make changes to justify the stressful behavior, either by adding new parts to the cognition causing the psychological dissonance (rationalization), believing that “people get what they deserve” (just-world fallacy), taking in specific information while rejecting or ignoring others (selective perception), or by avoiding circumstances and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance (confirmation bias).


During the interview, Jeff and Tyler discussed Mormon chapter 6. Chapter 6 includes these passages:

2 And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle.

3 And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites did grant unto me the thing which I desired.

4 And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.

5 And when three hundred and eighty and four years had passed away, we had gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah.

6 And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

(Mormon 6:2–6)

Here's how Jeff raised the question about Cumorah.

at the 20:10 mark: 

Jeff: you have now in 385 the Nephites gathering in chapter 6 to battle at the hill Cumorah. This is like a full final, essentially Armageddon-like battle that's taking place, so I have to ask is there an understanding, a widespread agreement as to the geographic location of Hill Cumorah? 

In the pursuit of clarity, this is obviously a "gotcha" question because Jeff knows perfectly well that he is talking to Tyler, a BYU professor and a representative of Book of Mormon Central (Scripture Central) who, like Scripture Central, categorically rejects what the prophets have taught about Cumorah. This is the cause of Tyler's cognitive dissonance, which we will observe as the conversation progresses.

The subtext of the question may not be evident to casual viewers, but Tyler and Jeff both know that the Cumorah issue has long been 

- (i) a focal point of critics who say there is no extrinsic physical evidence to support the Book of Mormon, and 

- (ii) a source of controversy among believers, some of whom still believe what the prophets have taught about Cumorah despite the efforts of Tyler and other faithful LDS scholars who have been teaching for years that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah.

Jeff seems to recognize the "gotcha" nature of the question so he softens it as though he's "only asking" because of the name of the hill in New York today.  

Andonly ask because of the name of The Hill Cumorah that is in New York, and that Mormon who is bearing these records buries them, I think, prior to this battle and that becomes sort of the, the repository that even Moroni eventually puts the final records into. 

Next, Jeff askes the question directly.


So is it believed, is it understood then that Cumorah that is in Palmyra, New York, is the hill of Cumorah being referred to here?

Jeff's question naturally arises from the text. Every reader who engages with the text wonders about this. Where is this land of Cumorah they are referring to? Where is this "hill which was called Cumorah" to which the people gathered? 

Anyone familiar with the origin of the Book of Mormon knows that Joseph Smith obtained the plates from a hill in New York that Joseph and his contemporaries (and successors) referred to as the Hill Cumorah. Even today, the Visitors Center there is named the "Hill Cumorah Visitors Center." 


Jeff's question is clear and straightforward. But let's look at Tyler's response (and if you watch the video, you can observe his body language).

Tyler: So this is, this has been a point of some, of many discussions among members of the church and it is not, um, that there is not a consensus among members of the church.

Tyler begins by framing the Cumorah question as a matter of "discussions" and "consensus among members of the church." 

But Tyler carefully avoids the point that both he and Jeff are fully aware of; i.e., that the question of Cumorah was raised by critics and answered directly by Oliver Cowdery, who, writing as Assistant President of the Church in 1835, and with the assistance of Joseph Smith, declared it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in New York where Joseph obtained the plates is the same Hill Cumorah/Ramah referred to in Mormon chapter 6. http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

Tyler and Jeff both know that the contemporaries of Joseph and Oliver, as well as their successors in church leadership, uniformly taught that Cumorah/Ramah is in New York. None disputed or questioned that.

They both know that an RLDS scholar named L. E. Hills rejected what the prophets said and claimed the "real Cumorah" is somewhere in southern Mexico. He published a map in 1917 showing Cumorah in southern Mexico that is the basis for what Scripture Central teaches today (as well as what Tyler teaches with his fantasy map that he discusses later in the interview). 

They both know that LDS leaders, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, have explicitly reaffirmed the New York Cumorah/Ramah, while popular LDS scholars (including Tyler) have repudiated those prophets by embracing the L.E. Hills theory. 

And they both know that portraying Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the hill Cumorah/Ramah undermines their overall credibility regarding the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. 

Jeff, as a Christian who rejects the Book of Mormon as actual history and legitimate scripture, has no problem with Tyler avoiding the real issue because he knows his viewers get the point. Tyler has a different reason for avoiding the real issue. As a faithful Latter-day Saint, he understands the problem with repudiating what the prophets have taught. 

This is the cognitive dissonance that leads him to deflect from the real issue.

Tyler: You're going to have a group of people often referred to as the heartlanders that believe that the Book of Mormon events took place in the United States today in, um the area around the Great Lakes for instance, and so for them the hill in New York is the hill Cumorah mentioned here.

Here we see how Tyler's cognitive dissonance affects his language. He says "for them the hill in New York is the hill Cumorah mentioned here." This fits his framing that the question is purely one of discussions and consensus among members and has nothing to do with the teachings of the prophets. If he pursued clarity instead of obfuscation, he would explain that the "heartlanders" still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught; i.e., that the hill in New York is the Cumorah/Ramah of the Book of Mormon.


You have others who believe in one of, you know, a handful, five, six, seven, eight different models in meso America for a variety of reasons.

Again, Tyler frames the issue as one of belief based on "a variety of reasons." And yet, we can all see that he avoided the reason why the "heartlanders" accept the New York Cumorah. He (and probably Jeff) know that the reason why the "heartlanders" accept the New York Cumorah is because they still accept the teachings of Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors. 

Instead, Tyler gave zero reasons for why the "heartlanders" believe what they do.

But now, he's going to give a series of reasons to support the "models in meso America." 

We call all these models "M2C" for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory because, while they recognize the historical Cumorah in New York, they claim the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico and that the New York Cumorah was named in homage to the real Cumorah, that it led to a false tradition that took on a life of its own, and that Oliver Cowdery specifically, and Joseph by at least passive acceptance, misled everyone about Cumorah/Ramah.


The way the text talks about certain movements of the people and the land that, for Instance, King Limhi's group escapes and the army of the the Lamanites follows them and after one day they get lost in the wilderness and they can't find their way home. They're lost and they wander and they can't even find their way back to where they started a day ago and so it lends itself to maybe a geography that might be a little more jungle like. 

That this is the example Tyler cites first is surprising because it is is one of the more bizarre rationales offered for M2C. We can all read the text and see it never mentions jungles. Besides, it does not require a jungle to get lost in a forest; in fact, the less dense the trees, the more likely one is to get lost, because if you hack your way through a jungle, your steps are easy to retrace. This is an argument against a jungle, not in favor of one.

Others would say, well, there's not a single mention of anything cold or freezing or snow or winterlike in the Book of Mormon, probably not taking place in New England area or the Great Lakes area.

This common argument is fallacious for several reasons, such as the lack of weather information in the text generally, the wearing of "thick garments," Nephi's reference to snow as an adjective, and the absence of snow in the New Testament (except as a metaphor like Nephi's), despite snow and cold in Israel and Turkey.


So there are those arguments. 

Tyler's cognitive dissonance leads him to present these rhetorical arguments, but we can all see that they merely mask the fundamental issue: do we support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, or do we, like Tyler, reject and repudiate those teachings? 

Others would say no, it took place in Baja California. Others would say no, it took place in South America.

Tyler inadvertently raised another important point here. He limited possibilities to the Western Hemisphere. But the text never mentions the Western Hemisphere, or America, or the Americas, or any other modern geographical site.

M2Cers emphasize that they rely on the text of the Book of Mormon. Yet the text of the Book of Mormon could describe locations around the world.

Why then do they focus on the Western Hemisphere?

The sole reason is because the prophets have said that Lehi sailed to the Western Hemisphere.

By confining their search for the setting of the Book of Mormon to the Western Hemisphere, Tyler and other M2Cers have admitted they cannot rely on the text alone.

But there is no principled rationale for accepting the teachings of the prophets about the Western Hemisphere (the "Americas") while rejecting the teachings of those same prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

That's why the church has an essay on Book of Mormon geography that says don't spend too much time trying to push a pin in the map because if you're not careful you'll miss the whole point.

The "pin in the map" is another indication of Tyler's cognitive dissonance. We all know that the "pin in the map" is the New York Cumorah. 

None of the M2Cers has ever identified a single person, let alone a group, that has ever "missed the whole point" of the Book of Mormon by seeking to understand and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the setting of the Book of Mormon. It's a straw man argument.

This happens all the time over in biblical stories as well, where people get more excited about trying to identify a specific location than they care about identifying what God wants us to understand from that story.

Not only does this not "happen all the time," it never happens. If there was anyone other than a straw man who gets more excited about Bible geography than what the Bible teaches, it should be easy to quote or cite such a person, but we never see such quotations or citations.

This is another manifestation of cognitive dissonance. When Tyler and other M2Cers sense the inherent cognitive conflict between (i) believing the prophets teach the truth but (ii) rejecting what the prophets say when it conflicts with their own M2C beliefs, they have to resolve that cognitive dissonance somehow.

One way is to concoct an imaginary person (or group) who is/are "more excited about trying to identify a specific location" than they care about the teachings of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. 

This tactic of diminishing the relevance of the setting of the Book of Mormon is a standard method of addressing cognitive dissonance. 

Another tactic is simply ignoring the underlying cause of their cognitive dissonance; i.e., their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets. As we saw in the wikipedia definition, they can resolve cognitive dissonance "by avoiding circumstances and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance (confirmation bias)."

It is fascinating to observe even someone of Tyler's expertise and experience demonstrate a classic case of cognitive dissonance.

Next, he explains how he's formalized his remedy for cognitive dissonance.

Tyler's "internal map" aka the "fantasy map"

So that's why I've done all my work on an internal map through virtual scriptures.org. So it's just an internal map based on, it says things like, if you're in Zarahemla, it's east of the river Sidon is the city of Gideon or the land of Gideon so I put it to the East and there's a river and then to the West is Melek and then three days journey northward is Ammonihah and so there's this this uh relational map that people would then have to squeeze or twist or compress to fit whatever Geographic geography but at the end of the day your Ammonihah better be 3 days walk north of your Melek wherever you're putting that, kind of an as an example.

Jeff: That makes sense. 

Does it really make sense? Tyler states it is a three days' walk, but the text doesn't say that. 

So that when he had finished his work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah.

(Alma 8:6)

Tyler merely infers or assumes that Alma walked because that's how M2Cers interpret the text, but if Alma's journey involved travel by boat on a river, the distance could be much greater. The text doesn't even say he went north. It says he traveled "three days' journey on the north of the land of Melek." If he traveled "on the north of the land" he could have been traveling east/west along the north boundary.

Like other ancient texts, the Book of Mormon is vague about directions and distances. That's evidence of its authenticity, actually. Yet the M2Cers think their precise interpretation is the only acceptable one, and Tyler has de facto canonized it at BYU and Scripture Central with his fantasy map based on the M2C interpretation instead of providing a variety of fantasy maps that reflect alternative interpretations of the text.

Next, Tyler explains how he's rationalized M2C.

Tyler: So in this case if you were to go with a meso American or a Baja or a South American model then The Hill Cumorah in New York would then have to be named after The Hill Cumorah where the repository of all the plates were kept by Mormon and Moroni is only taking the plates of Mormon. 

Again, he avoids the teachings of the prophets that are the source of his cognitive dissonance. 

Here he uses the "named after" argument for Cumorah in New York. In addition to Oliver Cowdery's explanation, Apostle Orson Pratt addressed this specific argument when he explained that there were two departments in Cumorah: one for the repository and one for Moroni's stone box. 

But Tyler simply ignores the teachings of the prophets and Jeff doesn't call him out on it, presumably because he's being charitable, but possibly also because his informed viewers can see exactly what is going on.

Jeff: So it's believed in that it it is true that Mormon buries the plates prior to the battle um but then after everything happens... 

Tyler: Doesn't bury the plates. They're kept in a repository and the way Joseph Smith and others talk about it in vision is that it's Mormon's cave, with all of the records that got transferred from the the hill Shim in the land Antium, over to Cumorah.

One of the fundamental claims of the M2Cers is that neither Joseph nor Oliver ever claimed a specific revelation about the Hill Cumorah, so I don't know to what Tyler refers here when he says "the way Joseph Smith and others talk about it in vision." Possibly he's referring to Heber C. Kimball's statement "How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry?"

Assuming Tyler was referring to this statement, let's take a moment to discuss it.

First, Brigham Young and others related what Oliver told them as an actual experience of entering the repository multiple times. After all, Oliver stated it was a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah/Ramah referred to in the text. Unless he was lying, he wouldn't state it as a fact unless he knew it was a fact from personal experience. Oliver was always careful to distinguish between fact and speculation, especially in his essays on Church history including Letter VII.

Second, if Tyler is relying on HCK's word choice to claim that Joseph and others had a supernatural vision of the Cumorah repository instead of a physical experience, what does that mean for the First Vision? Are we now to infer that because we refer to it as a "vision" Joseph did not actually see God and Christ? That it was all in his mind?

Webster's 1828 dictionary recognizes that a synonym for "vision" is "actual sight." Thus, we generally (I hope) believe that Joseph's "First Vision" involved an actual physical experience in the grove and not merely something imaginary. 

All this means that when HCK referred to "the vision that Joseph and others had," we should infer he used the term as a synonym for "view." IOW, Joseph and others had a view of the repository when they went into the cave in the hill Cumorah.

Third, when read in context it is obvious that HCK was referring to a physical experience.

Brother Mills mentioned in his song, that crossing the Plains with handcarts was one of the greatest events that ever transpired in this Church. I will admit that it is an important event, successfully testing another method for gathering Israel, but its importance is small in comparison with the visitation of the angel of God to the Prophet Joseph, and with the reception of the sacred records from the hand of Moroni at the hill Cumorah.

How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments.

(1850s1856, HCK Emigration ¶3–4 • JD 4:105)

Here, HCK refers twice to the hill Cumorah; once when Joseph received the records from Moroni there, and once when Joseph and others went into the cave there. There is no hint, suggestion, inference, or any other reason to infer that HCK was referring to two different locations.

Jeff: okay cuz then it says, cuz in verse six he hid up in the hill Cumorah the record so it doesn't necessarily say all the records


Tyler: So he hides them all up and then from there you get just the plates that represent what we now have plus that which was lost in the translation, so that one stack of plates, not the full repository, is what Moroni carries with him for 21 to 36 years. We don't know the exact timing.

Nothing in the text states, implies, or even suggests that Moroni carried the abridged plates around with him for 21 to 36 years. This is purely an assumption. And it's not even a reasonable assumption, given that he could have been killed at any moment or could have otherwise died, leaving the plates available to anyone who came along. 

Far more reasonable is the assumption that the record was "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra. Actually, this isn't merely an assumption. It's what Moroni told Joseph Smith. https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69.

As long as our scholars are rejecting what Joseph and Oliver said about the origin (SITH) and setting (M2C) of the Book of Mormon, they might as well reject what Moroni told Joseph here, too. 

But if in fact the record was written not far from Joseph's home, then the rational thing for Moroni would have been to wander in the general area for the safety of his life (Moroni 1:3) and return when possible to supplement the record (first with the account of the Jaredites and then with his own account) and, eventually, deposit the abridged plates in the stone box on the Hill Cumorah, separately from the repository.

That also is rational, because Moroni knew that Joseph Smith was going to be strongly tempted by the abridged plates. He warned Joseph about that temptation and made him wait for four years to overcome the temptation. Moroni could rationally expect that if the abridged plates were such a problem, the entire repository of Nephite records would be an insurmountable temptation at that stage of Joseph's life. Only after Joseph and Oliver had translated the abridged plates in Harmony and had received the priesthood, with the accompanying revelations about the future, could Joseph handle the realization that the repository was also in Cumorah. That appears to explain why he blanched when the messenger told David Whitmer he was going to Cumorah.

BTW, notice that Moroni said he wandered "withersoever" he could for his own safety. He didn't say he "wandered" with the plates over a long distance to a specific destination to deposit them far away in New York. 

Regarding the plates: many Latter-day Saints now believe that Joseph translated two separate sets of plates as directed in D&C 10; i.e., the abridged plates he obtained from Moroni's stone box, which he returned to the messenger before leaving Harmony, and the plates of Nephi (the small plates) that the messenger picked up from the repository in Cumorah before taking them to Fayette for Joseph to translate, which Joseph returned to the repository in Cumorah as described by Oliver Cowdery.

Jeff: so then that in a way doesn't solve the problem but within that context um when you have this massive battle you have waves of people coming, dying by the tens of thousands 

Tyler: Tens of thousands.

Jeff: We don't necessarily need to be looking for bodies in Palmyra, New York, because that geography isn't settled as far as where that

Tyler: Correct.

Tyler agrees with Jeff that "tens of thousands" died at Cumorah, presumably based on the improbable ideas that (i) the groups of "ten thousand" enumerated in Mormon 6 are literal numbers instead of military units and (ii) they were all killed at Cumorah instead of during the final war and series of retreats that started years earlier, or even during Mormon's career starting when he was a teenager. 

This is another traditional interpretation that arose by ignoring what Oliver Cowdery explained back in 1835. 

It is far more rational to infer that (i) "ten thousand" is not a precise number but merely a designation of a military unit that could comprise far fewer than 10,000 (for which there are lots of examples in history) and that (ii) at the end of his life Mormon would reflect back on all the military leaders he had commanded over his career, or at least recognize all those who had fallen during the final retreats from the Lamanites, starting with the time when he agreed to resume command of the Nephite armies (Mormon 5).

I've addressed the question of numbers in several posts, collected here:



It's useful and important to have conversations about all of these topics. But they should pursue the objectives of clarity, charity and understanding.

Because of his cognitive dissonance, in this conversation Tyler completely obfuscated the fundamental question about Cumorah--the opposite of clarity.

Consequently, Pastor Jeff and his viewers were left uninformed about the Cumorah issue. Yet informed Christians (and Latter-day Saints) can immediately see how Tyler dodged the question.

Let's hope that in the future, Tyler and other LDS scholars will seek clarity instead of confusion, all in the hope that we can achieve "no more contention" in the spirit of charity and understanding, without feeling any compulsion to persuade, convince, or prevail.

As always, I'm fine with people believing (and advocating) whatever they want. But I think it's unproductive for people to pursue obfuscation instead of clarity.

And I think those entrusted with the education of Latter-day Saints, whether at BYU, throughout CES, or even in separate organizations such as Scripture Central, have a fiduciary responsibility to teach the truth instead of promoting their private beliefs through censorship and confusion. 

IOW, I'm fine with Tyler and other M2Cers teaching people that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah, if that's what they want to do. However, I'm not fine with them obscuring their beliefs by keeping their students and viewers ignorant of what the prophets have taught, as Tyler did in this interview.

Along the same lines, if they're going to cite evidence and arguments in favor of M2C, they should do the same for other interpretations of the text, even those they don't agree with. 

FWIW, I'm happy to refer people to the M2C sites such as Scripture Central and the Interpreter. I want everyone to see what they are teaching and how they carefully misinform their readers and viewers the way Tyler did here.

I remain hopeful that Tyler and the other M2Cers (and SITH sayers) will someday join me in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding.

Let's lay out all the Facts, along with our respective Assumptions, Inference and Theories that lead to our respective Hypotheses. This FAITH model helps everyone understand the reasons for our faith and enables them to compare alternatives by making informed choices.

At that point, we are in the position Lehi described: "all things are given them which are expedient."

Which, ultimately, should be what the Gospel is all about.

Because we are not "free to choose" when we are ignorant.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, I love your reasoning and detail. I don't agree with the Meso theory at all, as I did for the first 40 years of life. The Book of Mormon is true by the spirit of personal revelation I have obtained and a strong secondary evidence is that the final battles happened at NY Cumorah, and the cave of NY Cumorah is where the large deposit of plates were held. It just makes sense. I believe the Prophets. Thanks for your review.