The first answer is that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. When critics (or BYU/CES teachers) persuade the youth and Church members that the Book of Mormon is fiction, nothing else matters.
The second answer is that the M2C intellectuals, who are the most prominent "defenders" of the Church, have decided the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. Consequently, nearly every defense of the Book of Mormon includes the argument that the prophets are wrong!
No wonder so many Church members are confused about what to believe.
The Gospel Topics essay does nothing to solve this problem because it completely avoids the key issue regarding Book of Mormon geography; i.e., the contradiction between what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, and what Church employees have managed to portray and teach about M2C.
The material published by the M2C citation cartel is far more harmful than the material published by the critics because the M2C intellectuals are working from the inside of the Church. All the critics have done is brought attention to the work of the M2C intellectuals.
Here's an example of a response to the CES Letter from one of the well-known M2C advocates, Michael Ash.
Original in blue, my comments in red.
7) LDS apologists [defenders of the faith] typically claim that the real Hill Cumorah was somewhere in Mesoamerica. This contradicts the teachings of Joseph Smith and the Church— there’s a Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra every year for crying out loud!
Answer: Joseph wasn’t the first to call the hill which entombed the plates “Cumorah” and even if he was, there is no evidence that a revelation was given designating the hill as Cumorah.
Readers here know that Lucy Mack Smith recorded an event during which Joseph referred to the hill near his home as Cumorah even before he got the plates. In 1830, during the mission to the Lamanites in New York, Ohio, and Missouri, Oliver Cowdery explained that Moroni himself called the hill Cumorah anciently. Of course, Letter VII specifically declares it is a fact that the hill Cumorah in western New York is the very hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. The M2C intellectuals never tell their readers about this. When confronted with this historical evidence, they say it's wrong, that people misremembered, that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, etc.
The M2C intellectuals like to say "there is no evidence that a revelation was given." And yet, Joseph knew the name of the hill even before he got the plates. He could have learned this only from Moroni. Are we to infer that what Moroni taught Joseph was not a "revelation" for some reason? On multiple occasions, Joseph and Oliver (and others) actually visited the repository of Nephite plates inside the New York hill. The M2C intellectuals claim this was merely a vision, or that their physical experience was still not a "revelation."
The critics can easily point to the discrepancy between what these M2C intellectuals want people to believe and the actual historical evidence.
Some early Mormon (probably one of the Pratt brothers) seems to have been the first to dub the Palmyra hill “Cumorah” for the likely reason that he thought it made sense.
This contradicts the actual evidence mentioned above. Furthermore, where would the Pratt brothers have learned this except from Joseph and Oliver? In fact, in his Autobiography, Parley specifically says he learned this from Oliver.
There is no denying that early Latter-day Saints typically understood their local vicinity as having been the home to Book of Mormon events. Heck, there were all kinds of bones scattered in and under the earth— surely this is where the Book of Mormon took place.
The Gospel Topics Essay did one important thing: it showed everyone that Joseph did, in fact, identify the plains in the Midwest as the "plains of the Nephites." Naturally, early Latter-day Saints accepted Joseph's teachings on this. They all read Letter VII because Joseph made sure it was widely publicized. Heber C. Kimball visited the Hill Cumorah in New York and reported that he saw embankments around it.
Using the best logic, intuition, and evidence of the day, it did make sense.
See how the M2C intellectuals seek to bring prophets down to their level? Or, more accurately, below their level, because the prophets don't have the PhDs that the M2C intellectuals have. Of course, Joseph learned the name Cumorah from the angel Moroni. He and Oliver actually visited the repository of Nephite records. Their experience is, or should be, infinitely more valuable than the speculations of M2C intellectuals. But as we'll see next, that's not the case.
This is once again, however, a human approach—a scientific approach, if you will. Scientists and laypersons alike see patterns and formulate hypotheses based on initial indicators and evidence. In rigorous modern academic research, scientists and scholars dig deep to verify or falsify a theory. In math and physics (“hard sciences”) this is typically easier to do than in the humanities (“soft sciences”). 2+2=6; it’s easy to check the accuracy of this conclusion.
This is mere word salad designed to lull readers into thinking this is a rigorous analysis.
The claim that the first humans arrived in the New World 13,000 years ago is not so easily proven and may be open to debate. The “13,000 years ago” would be the current earliest date for which we can provide evidence. If no bones are ever found to dispute this claim, that doesn’t mean that our timeline is settled— bones aren’t always found. What it means is that the latest theory on the first American populations is based on the best evidence currently available. So, if I haven’t lost you on this one yet—back to Cumorah in New York.
Word salad over. Now he gets back to undermining the credibility of the prophets.
Without 31 revelation on the matter, the early brethren—including Joseph Smith—were free to use their own logic, reasoning, and acceptance or rejection of evidence to formulate their own theories and opinions. Based on the best evidence of the day, the bones on the Midwestern plains seemed to match pretty well with stories from the Book of Mormon. They knew that Mormon had buried plates in the hill Cumorah and that Joseph Smith dug the golden plates out of a nearby hill, so it just made sense that this hill was the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon.
Do you see how, by ignoring (really, by censoring) the actual historical evidence, the M2C intellectuals have been able to push their M2C dogma as an equivalent (yet superior because based on more education) theory?
Interestingly enough, it should be noted that as new evidence emerged on the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica, Joseph Smith apparently rethought his views about Book of Mormon geography and might have favored the Central American region for Book of Mormon events.
This sentence refers to the anonymous editorials in the 1842 Times and Seasons. This is the same premise that shows up in the Gospel Topics Essay; i.e., the assertion that an 1841 travel book caused Joseph Smith to reject what Moroni had taught him--and his own experience in the Hill Cumorah with Oliver Cowdery and others.
Even if you accept the flimsy premise that Joseph actually edited or approved of these anonymous editorials, they said nothing about the New York Cumorah!
The M2C intellectuals have successfully conflated the two separate issues (Cumorah vs the rest of the geography), but the prophets never have.
Unfortunately, the Gospel Topics Essay, as originally published, does conflate the two separate issues. But that can be fixed easily enough.
It is the conflation of these two issues that gives the critics such an easy task.
Just like those who study science and scholarship, Joseph Smith changed his views based on better evidence (not revelation, better evidence).
To a hammer, everything is a nail, and to an intellectual, every question can be answered only by intellectuals. But as we just saw, nothing in these anonymous articles evince any change in Joseph's "views" about the New York Cumorah. In fact, Letter VII was published both before and after these anonymous editorials were published.
From the view of current scholarship, a Hill Cumorah in Palmyra New York isn’t feasible.
This sentence ranks among the most classic of all M2C citation cartel literature. It's a favorite of the critics, including the CES Letter, because here we have the M2C intellectuals declaring the prophets are wrong. What more do the critics needs to say, really?
Reading the Book of Mormon with a more discerning eye reveals that Mormon buried all of the plates except the golden plates in the Hill Cumorah. So wherever the plates were buried, the one place we know they weren’t buried was in the Hill Cumorah.
A careful reading of the Book of Mormon says nothing of the sort. Orson Pratt explained that there were two departments in the hill, just as Joseph and Oliver explained in their historical letters. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, and others corroborated this explanation. Only the M2C intellectuals claim all these Church leaders were wrong.
In other words, Moroni might have buried the plates in a hill he called “Harvey’s Hill,” or any other name save Cumorah (unless, of course, he decided to dub this new New York hill “Cumorah” in the same way we find the city of “Paris” in Idaho).
Need I write more?
With answers such as these, which are similar to those given by other members of the M2C citation cartel, it's no wonder that so many people find the CES Letter more persuasive than the explanations and narrative provided by the defenders of the Church.
The Gospel Topics Essay, as originally published, helps the critics more than the defenders of the Church, precisely for the reasons the answers given by the M2C intellectuals do.