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.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Reconciling" a square peg into a round hole

I've been following this issue of Book of Mormon historicity and geography for many years (decades, actually), which is long enough to know that the Mesoamerican apologists think all the questions have been asked and answered. They seem impervious to criticism at this point, and assume everyone else interested in the issue is either in their camp, not LDS, or is a crazy fanatical "Heartlander." They repeatedly denigrate proponents of the North American theory and even to consider the abundant archaeological evidence in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. They are unwilling to objectively evaluate the evidence from church history, feeling compelled to "reconcile" it with the Mesoamerican theory. But as the discussion below shows, the entire Mesoamerican theory is based on three excerpts from the Times and Seasons (not counting John Page's comments after he was excommunicated). But the T&S itself published more detailed and extensive links between specific Book of Mormon history and the archaeology of Ohio. All of Joseph Smith's personal writings, his statements recorded by others, and specific verses in the D&C are consistent with the T&S Ohio comparisons. Yet Mesoamerican theorists are compelled to discredit each of these to "reconcile" them with the Mesoamerican theory. A recent example of this was published in the Interpreter. Mark Alan Wright titled his piece:

Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography

There was a fascinating discussion over on Pathos, which I'll cover here. Dan Peterson asked about how many youth leave the Church and what can be done about it. He cited a study that, ironically, showed that LDS youth remain faithful and active through college at far higher rates than any other denomination surveyed, including Catholics, Jews and Conservative, Black, and Mainline Protestants. This seemed to have comforted most of the responders; i.e., the Church is doing pretty well, by comparison.

Contrary to the "status quo consensus," the point was raised in one comment that the Mesoamerican theory is causing many people to leave the Church, as well as deterring investigators from joining.

Most participants claimed there is no problem with the Mesoamerican theory having this impact, or that they are unaware of any such problem. That response astonishes me. Aside from my personal experience with family and friends, which admittedly is anecdotal, the blogs are replete with ridicule of the Mesoamerican theory, both from scientists and lay persons. But worse, the theory itself requires one to believe the BoM was not accurately translated, that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Nephites, that his contemporaries (including his mother) inaccurately reported what happened, etc.

The original post:

“How many youth are we losing?”

An image of Lehi's dream
1 Nephi 8
Still very relevant
 I often see claims from critics — mostly from former members — that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dying, and that, in particular, it’s hemorrhaging young people.
 And perhaps we are.  Certainly, we’re losing more than I could wish.
 I think often about what I, personally, might be able to do in order to help stanch the flow.
 But we always did, I think.  Even back in the middle Jurassic, when I was young, we lost far too many young people.
 However, I don’t see a lot of statistics.
 And some critics, immersed as they are in apostate message boards and the like, may simply be confusing their little corner of the universe with the whole of it.  They may be extrapolating from a rather small and quite unrepresentative sample.
 But maybe not.
 Here’s a brief attempt to analyze some relevant numbers:
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2014/12/how-many-youth-are-we-losing.html#ixzz3LHOs0vnw

Then Dan posted this:

I'm unaware of anything to suggest that youth are leaving the Church in response to proposed Mesoamerican geographical models for the Book of Mormon.
In any event, I hold to a Mesoamerican model because I think it's the best one available. Unfortunately I don't find "heartland" arguments convincing.
Here's an "Interpreter" article, in the meantime, that might be of interest:


Here is the response:

Hi Dan. Good to see you here. Maybe it's because you've battled in the area of apologetics so long that you think the questions are answered, and I'm sure they are to your satisfaction because, as you say, the spiritual witness is more important. But it doesn't take much effort to find that the historicity of the BoM is a central issue for less committed members and investigators both.

After all your battles, I'm surprised you are unaware of youth leaving the Church over the Mesoamerican theory. Here are some links to help you become less unaware of the problem, or as Southerton put it, "The emergence of Rodney Meldrum was inevitable given the twisted apologetics one has to swallow with the Mesoamerican geography." (http://idratherbetellingstories.com/why-i-left-the-mormon-church/ "Some apologists say the Nephites were a small tribe in a larger continent where a lot of other people lived, so it’s difficult to find a record of them, but the Book of Mormon makes a big point about the promised land being a choice land where no one is allowed to dwell unless they are brought by the hand of the Lord." and http://www.exmormonforums.com/viewtopic.php?p=120328&sid=e74fb18a8b7315e4d3bb4d56d39d7e36 and many more.)

In your comments on the Interpreter article, you wrote: "I don’t sense much animosity among Mesoamericanists to Heartlanders." Have you read the comments on this very blog? I've been accused of all kinds of things just because I dared raise a handful of the many problems with the Mesoamerican theory. I could show you plenty of animosity on the blogs if you want to see it. It is deplorable that anyone would attack you, of course; I think attacks from any side are a reflection more on the attacker than on the underlying material. IOW, don't reject evidence just because some proponents are, shall we say, jerks. I certainly have not rejected the Mesoamerican theory because of the conduct of people on this blog and others; I'm purely interested in the facts. I think you are, too.

Still, when you trivialize the issue by referring to the "precise GPS coordinates of the Jaredite city of Lib," you are pursuing the same "all is well in Zion" approach that, in my experience, is causing a significant problem for retention and conversion.

As for the Interpreter article, I have read it. Here is my brief review:

Mark Alan Wright's article in the Interpreter 13: 111-129, is a useful contribution to the dialog. He proposes that the BoM accounts of expeditions to the north (the "hinterlands") took those groups out of the BoM narrative. He summarizes his thesis here: "I believe that every statement made by Joseph Smith or his contemporaries concerning Nephites or Lamanites in North America can be accommodated by the Hinterland Hypothesis."

However, there are some conceptual flaws that, to me, undermine the thesis.

Wright begins by citing John E. Page for authority on the Mesoamerican theory. What he doesn't mention is that by 1848, the date of the quotation, Page had been excommunicated after a series of offenses. True, Page had been an apostle under Joseph Smith, but he also became President of the Quorum of the Twelve under James J. Strang, whom he encouraged LDS to follow. He thought Joseph and Brigham were both fallen prophets. I have difficulty accepting his comments, especially his post-apostasy comments, as support. Why does Wright think Page knew more than Joseph did? In my readings and discussions, most Mesoamerican theorists agree with the President of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Doug Christensen, who thinks Joseph Smith didn't know all that much about the Book of Mormon and was guessing whenever he made comments about geography.

Predictably, Wright quotes the unsigned 15 July 1842 T&S excerpt. But he omits any reference to the 1 Jan 1842 T&S which, right after publishing Section 1 of the D&C, gives a far more extensive and detailed comparison of Book of Mormon passages with specific sites in Ohio. This T&S article concludes thus: "This account also agrees with the Indian traditions which I have quoted in a former part of this work. It says, that their forefathers were once in possession of a sacred Book, which was handed down from generation to generation, and at last hid in the earth; but these oracles are to be restored to them again and then they shall triumph over their enemies and regain their ancient country."

After comparing just these two pieces from the T&S, I ask, along with Wright, "So how can we suggest that the core area of the Book of Mormon is in Mesoamerica and relegate North America to the periphery?" When viewed as a whole, T&S provides far more support for the North American theory than for the Mesoamerican theory. What's especially odd is that the only--the only--support for the Mesoamerican theory is those brief T&S excerpts; everything else Joseph said places the BoM in North America.

It's very bizarre that Wright dismisses the Zelph account because neither Zelph nor Onandagus was named in the Book of Mormon, when he just emphasized that most BoM events weren't included in Mormon's compilation. As Wright notes, Joseph wrote in his own hand, the day after the Zelph incident, that he was "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon." But he would have the reader believe that Zelph was unrelated to the history of the Book of Mormon Joseph was recounting the very next day!

This returns us to the notion that Joseph Smith knew so little about the Book of Mormon that he must have merely guessed about Zelph and, while he thought he was walking over the plains of the Nephites, recounting their history, he was unaware that the actual plains of the Nephites (where the history he recounted took place) were several thousand miles south of his location.

Again, the Mesoamerican theory requires that Joseph knew little about the Book of Mormon.

There are other problems, such as Wright's assertion that "When the Book of Mormon came forth in 1830, there were only 24 states." While technically true as far as states go, the Louisiana purchase (U.S. territory) took place in 1803 and included the Midwest not already included in the 24 states (including the areas in Missouri and Iowa relevant to the discussion).

Here is Wright's conclusion: "I would like to restate that my hope with this paper was that I might be able to reconcile the statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning Nephites and Lamanites with what the best archaeological evidence tells us about where the Book of Mormon likely took place." 

A more objective evaluation would conclude that Wright spelled out the basic arguments for dismissing whatever Joseph said that contradicted the speculation in the June T&S articles, but of course he said nothing about archaeological evidence. If he had, he would have had to address the correlations between ancient North American archaeology (e.g., the Jan T&S), which fit the BoM much better than the completely alien culture in Mesoamerica.

Regardless of the outcome of these posts, thanks again for a thoughtful original post to start the discussion. 

1 comment:

  1. Don't Strangites have no choice but to prefer the Heartland theory if they believe that plate Strang found was Israelite?