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, May 21, 2015

Gregory Smith on Rod Meldrum

Gregory Smith is a writer for FARMS and the infamous Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BoMAF). I say "infamous" because it's president has declared that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon, etc. Their entire premise is that Joseph Smith merely speculated about Book of Mormon archaeology, changed his views over time, and didn't bother to sign or even acknowledge anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons he supposedly wrote and/or endorsed.

Smith wrote an undated "Short Summary of Problems with Rod Meldrum's 'Heartland'' that is astonishingly irrational. I first thought it was a parody, but people are still passing it around as if it is to be taken seriously, so I'll address it. Although undated, at least one citation refers to a piece published in February 2011, so Smith can't use the excuse that much of his analysis has been superseded by more facts. He ought to acknowledge his errors and/or retract the piece entirely. If he does, I hope he contacts me so I can modify my review accordingly.

I know Meldrum, although I didn't at the time of many of the incidents cited by Smith. I agree with some of Meldrum's conclusions and I disagree with others, but I'm focused here on the logical and factual merits of Smith's arguments. Unlike Smith, I don't care much for ad hominem attacks. I don't know or care about Smith's background, what he's said or done elsewhere, etc. (although he is still writing for the Interpreter, I noticed). I'm focusing purely on what he wrote here.

Here is the entire piece, with my comments.

FAIR and other researchers have noted, among others, (it would be interesting to know what "other" problems have been noted, as this is a long list) the following problems:
A.     Appeals to revelation and attacks on other members [This entire section is an ad hominem attack (responding to arguments by attacking a person's character rather than to the content of the arguments). I found this funny; Smith criticizes Meldrum personally by accusing Meldrum of criticizing others personally.]

1.       Meldrum uses appeals (this, like many of his links are dead, so Smith's failure to actually cite sources is problematic) to personal revelation regarding his theory. (Smith quotes and analyzes a personal email Meldrum sent in 2008. Smith doesn't "reveal" any personal emails from the BoMAF, such as those among people who stalk Meldrum online. More importantly, his complaint is that Meldrum is prayerful about what he does. IOW, Smith says one should not pray about these matters, or if you do, certainly don't admit to it. I wonder if the Emeritus General Authorities on the BoMAF agree with this criticism of prayer?)
2.       Meldrum attacks LDS scholars (ha-ha, Smith is citing himself here, a FARMS article I've reviewed previously) who do not agree with his theory, claims they “disdain and disparage(this link is to a FAIR page that insists the Times and Seasons articles are "statements made by Joseph." So they're not even recognizing the nuance that, at most, Joseph approved those articles by not expressly repudiating them. FAIR acknowledges that Meldrum did not name the scholars whose work he criticizes; instead, FAIR itself identifies the scholars! So Smith criticizes Meldrum for attacking LDS scholars who Meldrum didn't even identify. As Meldrum said, he didn't name them "because this is not about the individuals." IOW, Meldrum avoided the ad hominem attack that Smith (and FAIR) expressly engage in. Along these lines, a common theme among FAIR, FARMS, and Maxwell Institute is taking personal offense to any criticism of their work. That's an upcoming blog post, but this entire post of Smith's is typical.) Joseph Smith, and accuses them of helping anti-Mormons. (another page not found, but the assertion that FAIR/Maxwell Institute have helped anti-Mormons isn't even a matter of opinion. Anti-Mormons frequently cite FAIR/Maxwell Institute publications to make their points.)
3.       Meldrum attacks BYU for its science curriculum. (This is a classic misleading overbroad attack, implying that Meldrum rejects science. The link shows that Meldrum objects only to BYU's teaching of traditional Darwinian evolution. Meldrum basically adopts creationism science that is taught by many Christian groups. So Smith criticizes Meldrum for his complaint that BYU teaches the Bible is wrong about the creation of the earth, that Adam was not created around 4,000 B.C., etc.)
4.       Meldrum uses extensive testimonials (another citation to Smith's FARMS article) that demonstrate that many in his audience understand that he is claiming revelation and certainty regarding his model. (I agree that testimonials have little evidentiary value in an academic sense, but this cuts both ways. Smith cited these testimonials in a purportedly scholarly journal (FARMS) as evidence that Meldrum's theory is wrong, or shouldn't be believed--or something. Actually, it's difficult to see what legitimate purpose Smith's complaint here serves. It's pure ad hominem attack. And it's especially ironic coming from Smith, whose citations to himself and his close allies are little more than testimonials themselves.)
5.        Meldrum is forbidden to use Church facilities to hold or advertise his events. (No citation, but how is this relevant to anything?)
6.       Meldrum frequently relies on paranoia or conspiracy theories to explain why his model has not been accepted.  This includes attacks on BYULDS scholarsLDS who offer a different model, the National Science Foundation, the National Association of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, DNA researchers onmutation rates and dating haplotype X2aElder James E. Talmage and others who declared the Michigan relics to be forgeries, those who develop computer models, and North American archaeologists who find no evidence of metallurgy north of Mexico (see full text description of “Iron Age America” sold here).  Despite making all his income from marketing his theory, Meldrum accuses those who disagree with having financial motives behind their disagreement, without admitting that the same might apply to him. (Much of this list is a rehash of previous links, so I'm not going to take the time to go through them all.)

B.      False and incomplete claims about Joseph Smith’s writings and attitude toward a variety of geographies
7.       The Heartland Model falsely claims Joseph Smith had a revelation (this link goes to a bizarre FAIR article that doesn't cite facts or make a rational argument, but asks a series of rhetorical questions) about Book of Mormon geography.  Leaders of the Church have repeatedly taught that there is no revealed Book of Mormon geography. (This link goes to a Mormon Chess site that lists quotations supporting the general Church policy of neutrality. Unanswered is why the Church publishes Book of Mormon art depicting the Book of Mormon in Central America exclusively. IOW, the Church's neutrality policy boils down to this: the Church is neutral about where in Central America the Book of Mormon events took place. That practice itself is inconsistent with the cited quotations.) 
8.       The Heartland Model falsely claims that letters written by Joseph Smith in which he expressed interest in a non-North American model were not written by Joseph. (another dead link, but I can only think of one such letter, the one to Bernhisel in Nov 1841, which was written by an unknown person according to the Joseph Smith Papers. The only thing we know for sure is that Joseph Smith did not write it.)
9.       The Heartland Model falsely claims that Joseph Smith was in hiding and unable to oversee Church publications when reviews favorable to a non-North American model were published. (I agree with this; the historical record establishes that Joseph was in Nauvoo during September, when the 3 articles were published in the Times and Seasons. However, there is zero evidence that Joseph had anything to do with the articles, or even the Times and Seasons, during this period; to the contrary, there is evidence he had nothing to do with either the articles or the Times and Seasons.)
10.    The Heartland Model claims that Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was on “this continent,” (link goes to Roper's article that I've peer reviewed. I agree with some of Roper's points, disagree with others, but on this specific point, Roper was wrong, as I demonstrate.) meaning North America.  But, Joseph Smith and others often talked about the whole western hemisphere as a continent. (link goes to a cursory FAIR article about semantics that Roper's piece examined in more detail.)

C.       Use of forgeries and misrepresentation
11.    The Heartland Model appeals to known forgeries (link to criticism of the Michigan artifacts. There's no doubt that the specimens examined by Talmage and Stamps were fake. But there are lots of faked antiquities. I've bought fake ancient coins in Lebanon, for example. Does that mean there were no actual ancient coins? The unanswered question is did the forgers make up these artifacts themselves, or were they copying something real (like the Lebanese artisans)? What were the forgers copying? So far, those questions have not been answered.) to support his model.  The Heartland Model claims that LDS scientists (including James E. Talmage) who identified the forgeries are biased “pseudoscientists.” (another dead link, so I can't follow Smith's point.)
12.    Meldrum helped produce another DVD about early North American history in which scientists interviewed claimed that their remarks had been edited and taken out of context to make it appear as if they supported claims which they do not. (This is a fair criticism. People can view the DVD and the response and decide for themselves. But it's the same argument made against FARMS when they cite outside work to support their Mesoamerican theory.)
13.    The basic Heartland Model was originally proposed and later rejected by author Ed Goble, whose original work is nether recognized or attributed to by authors May and Meldrum who have claimed the model as their own. (Smith's own citation explains, in a passage Smith must not have read: "Goble now realizes that any new geographical model based in any particular setting is bound to build upon the former models, and it is understandable how it is that it can be difficult to give credit where each idea one builds upon comes from.")

D.     DNA errors (I'll come back to this later when I have more time)
The Heartland Model gets virtually everything about DNA wrong.  Brigham Young University’s FARMS Review has a detailed discussion here.  Some highlights:
14.     Believing LDS scholars with expertise in DNA universally reject the Heartland Model.
15.     The Heartland Model accuses LDS scholars and BYU professors of betraying members and the gospel because they do not accept his model.
16.    LDS geneticists have overwhelmingly concluded that Lehi’s DNA signature is very unlikely to be detected, contrary to what the Heartland Model expects.
17.    The Heartland Model ignores that if Lehi has any modern day descendants, then all modern day Amerindiansare almost certainly his descendants.  We cannot, genetically, confine Lehi’s descendants to a small group—the science just doesn’t work that way.
18.    The Heartland Model’s reading of the X2a haplotype is wrong.  Furthermore, he ignores that there are noexamples of X2a in the Old World.
19.    The Heartland Model claims that a desire to keep “evolutionary biology” and “old earth” dating leads scientists or some LDS members to distort the data to produce old date for X2a.  He appeals to conspiracy theories to explain why non-LDS and LDS scientists do not accept his model.
20.    The Heartland Model (1) misrepresents the papers cited for dating X2a, many of which are also out of date; and (2) ignores that problems with the model can be demonstrated in historical time, using known, modern human populations, with no appeal at all to evolutionary biology.  It is true that evolutionary biology does not help the Heartland Model, but the model has failed long before evolution arguments are even raised.  If one accepts evolution, then the Heartland Model has even bigger problems.  If one does not, the model still fails based on objective, real-world tests in known populations.

E.       Geography problems
The Heartland Model’s geography does not match the Book of Mormon text.  A few examples are included below, and details on each are available here: (another page not found, so I can't address the merits)
21.     Hagoth cannot, as is claimed, navigate from the Great Lakes to the ocean. (Hagoth not only could have, but archaeological evidence shows people did so 2,000 years ago.)
22.    The Mississippi River flows north to south; the Sidon flows south to north. (This is a long-perpetrated misreading of the text. Fortunately the Church finally removed this idea from the concordance.)
23.    The Sidon should empty into the “seas,” which are the Great Lakes in the Heartland Model.  The Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico, far away from these “seas.” (I agree with this criticism. In my proposed geography, the Sidon does empty into the west sea.)
24.    The confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as the "head" of the river Sidon does not work, because this confluence is not in an area identified by the Book of Mormon as a "narrow strip of wilderness." (This is circular reasoning on Smith's part, but in my proposed geography, this head of Sidon fits perfectly.)
25.    The Heartland Model uses the Ohio River as the geographic feature separating the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, while the Book of Mormon indicates that the separating feature was a narrow strip of wilderness. (Exactly! Smith needs to consult Strong's Hebrew Concordance and the EModE usage.)
26.    The Heartland Model has the land Bountiful southeast of Zarahemla; the Book of Mormon has it northward. (A map demonstrating these claims is available here, about a third of the way through.) (another dead link, but Smith makes a false assumption here anyway.)
27.    The Heartland Model elsewhere claims that Bountiful is directly north of the land of Nephi; in the Book of Mormon, Zarahemla is directly north of the land of Nephi. (I don't know what Smith is looking at so I can't comment, but in my model, Bountiful is directly north of the land of Nephi)
28.    The Heartland Model’s Land of Nephi does not stretch from east to west sea, as it would need to in order to match the Book of Mormon text. (Good point, but in my model, the Land of Nephi does stretch from east sea to west sea.)
29.    The Book of Mormon has the sea west to the west of the Zarahemla and the land of Bountiful, but the Heartland Model has it east of Zarahemla and north of Bountiful. (I don't know what Smith is looking at so I can't comment)
30.    The land of first inheritance should be on the west sea, west from the land of Nephi.  The Heartland Model places it south of the land of Nephi, on the Gulf of Mexico that is not even one of the “seas” in his model. (I don't know what Smith is looking at so I can't comment)
31.    Heartland Model requires Limhi’s rescue party to travel almost 1700 miles in error (maps here, (another dead link) about half way down). (I don't know what Smith is looking at so I can't comment)
32.    Heartland Model misrepresents other members’ work(another dead link) to make his seem more plausible.
33.    Heartland Model buffalo evidence gets almost everything wrong.(both dead links) 
34.    John Sorenson (emeritus professor of anthropology, BYU) offers his own extensive list of cultural and geographical problems that make the model unworkable. (I've commented on each of these. I even speculated that Sorenson did not author this list because it is so ignorant of the topic.)
F.       The Heartland Model misreads (another dead link) scripture and omits quotes from LDS leaders that disagree with his model. (An excellent FARMS Review article is here (this is at least the third citation to the same Roper article. Since I've reviewed that article already, I won't repeat my analysis here with one exception, below).)
35.    Heartland Model ignores many scriptural uses of the term “land of promise” referring to a broader area than Missouri.  At least ten LDS leaders (including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young) applied the term to all of North and South America, not just Missouri.
36.    Heartland Model ignores Book of Mormon passages that place elements of the promised land outside the present-day (or Joseph’s day) United States—including the visit of Christopher Columbus, who never entered the modern day United States: his explorations were restricted to the Caribbean and Central America (he never traveled even as far north as Mexico). (Columbus never visited the area that LDS Mesoamericanists claim is the setting for the Book of Mormon. He visited the coast of Honduras during his fourth voyage, but even that was only in response to Bartolome Colon's prior visit there. And, of course, Columbus did visit Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States.)
37.    Heartland Model uses a city founded by Mormons near Nauvoo (named “Zarahemla) to locate the Nephite city of Zarahemla.  The model ignores that it was settlers who started calling it Zarahemla first, not scripture or Joseph Smith.  The lines about Zarahemla were added laterfor historical clarity, by an editor when the revelation was published. (This is funny because Smith confuses the facts. His last sentence is correct--but only with respect to the statements of settlers, not the revelation! IOW, historians later added references to Zarahemla in History of the Church; they didn't retroactively change the revelation.) 
38.    Likewise, a city called “Manti” was ascribed to the prophet by later editors, but it was not in the original text.
39.    Heartland Model’s confused discussion of “this land” distorts the Book of Mormon text.
G.     Cultural (another dead link) problems
The Heartland Model uses a number of “parallels” that either exist in many geographical models, or misunderstands elements in the Book of Mormon text that don’t match his model.
40.     Items in many models: armor, weapons, defensive works, cities, presence of dead bodies, bodies of water.
41.    Heartland Model does not match the known archaeology of the Hopewell (link to Tyler Livingston's piece I've already addressed; actually, I've addressed all the points in this section) area that he wishes to make into the Nephites.
42.    The Heartland Model’s seasonal and climate (another dead link) claims have problems; some Book of Mormon elements (e.g., extreme heat, rather than snow, in and end-of-the year battle) do not match his proposed geography.
43.    The Heartland Model also misunderstands the evidence about population sizes and growth.
44.    The Heartland Model misrepresents and misunderstands the issue of stone cities versus wood cities, and burning “stone” cities.
45.    The Heartland Model’s list of “hits” is, in fact, either misses, or hits that are also hits in other models.

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