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, July 8, 2019

Jack Welch explains the problem with M2C

BYU Professor John W. (Jack) Welch gave an outstanding description about university education when when he presented the 2010 Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecture at a BYU forum on 17 May 2011. It was titled “Thy Mind, O Man, Must Stretch.”

Online here: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/john-w-welch_thy-mind-o-man-must-stretch/

In the passage below, he provided a key that explains why, after all these decades of pursuing M2C* as the "only plausible setting" for the Book of Mormon, the M2C scholars have brought the Church to the point where even BYU professors in the Religion Department no longer believe the Book of Mormon is a real history.

On other issues, LDS intellectuals have also capitulated to the critics. They would do well to reconsider what brother Welch taught in this lecture.

The following passage is especially meaningful to me because for decades I too accepted M2C. It was only when I took the intellectual journey brother Welch advises here that I realized what a mistake M2C is.

As you read the passage below, think about how the M2C scholars approach President Oliver Cowdery's essays published as Letters IV, VII and VIII.

I've reformatted the passage to make it clearer, but otherwise it's a direct quotation (blue) with my comments (red).

“Thy Mind, O Man, Must Stretch.”
Under its second bullet point, the BYU Mission Statement speaks of “the pursuit” of truth. It doesn’t speak of “inventing” or “voting on” truth, but rather of “pursuing” truth. We expand our knowledge by looking for things, pursuing things that exist beyond our current understanding. 

M2C is based on consensus; i.e., the scholars took a vote and rejected the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. Brother Welch decided decades ago that brother John Sorenson was correct when he said it is a fact that Mesoamerica is the setting for the Book of Mormon. Since then, he and other M2C intellectuals (and their employees) have done nothing but seek to confirm that bias. 

They would be far more productive if they sought to support, instead of oppose, the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, even if this is beyond their current understanding.  

How can one logically pursue something that one assumes does not exist? As former BYU academic vice president Robert K. Thomas said, “Skeptics—by definition—cannot affirm anything, even their own skepticism.” 

M2C assumes the New York Cumorah does not exist, so how could they logically pursue it? Their skepticism has prevented them from even considering interpretations of the text and relevant sciences that affirm what the prophets have taught.

Thus, discoveries that have given me the greatest satisfaction have begun by assuming 

(i) the correctness of a text, 

(ii) the truthfulness of a proposition, or 

(iii) the wisdom of an instruction given by one in authority.  

Contrary to his own advice to students, regarding the Book of Mormon, Brother Welch assumes 

(i) the incorrectness of the text (Oliver's 8 essays), 

(ii) the falsehood of the proposition that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York, and 

(iii) the foolishness of an instruction given by one in authority, in this case starting with President Cowdery and continuing through all the prophets and apostles who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.

In my view, BYU students should pay attention to what brother Welch taught in this lecture and ignore the example he has set in pursuing M2C.

Brother Welch's excellent talk continues:

When we come up against things that seem out of sorts or nonsensical, our critical instincts lure us into thinking that there must be something wrong. 

But a special joy attaches to the discovery of a new insight that began with the thought that something was wrong but turned out to be right. 

It’s the joy of finally seeing an odd little puzzle piece snap into place in the bigger picture. 

It’s the joy that comes from the great gospel principle of reversal: that by small things come great purposes; that the Lord’s ways are not always the world’s ways (see Isaiah 55:8);

This "special joy" comes when we recognize how the New York Cumorah fits the text and the relevant sciences; how the two sets of plates resolve the many otherwise inexplicable events in Church history; and how the Wentworth letter and Joseph's other teachings are perfectly sound and don't need to be censored from Church publications.

We hope more LDS intellectuals will re-examine their long-held assumptions about these matters and recognize that a great reversal is in store for them and all members of the Church.

There is one deeply ironic passage in the lecture, ironic because it comes from brother Welch, who is Chairman of Book of Mormon Central.

if forced to choose, Mormon thought will always prefer openness over closedness, boldly inviting further growth, progression, and—fortunately for us in academia—further questions.

In direct contradiction to this passage, Book of Mormon Central insists on closedness over openness, boldly inhibits further grown, and absolutely forbids further questions that have anything to do with the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

Brother Welch continues in this part of the lecture to discuss fiduciary duties. He says, "how much in need we are of a more robust legal approach to the duties owed by people in positions of greatest trust.

I ask, who in the Church has a greater fiduciary duty than teachers at BYU and CES?  Parents and Church leaders have given these teachers tremendous trust and responsibility to teach the youth of the Church, but what are they doing with that trust? 

They are teaching the youth that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. They teach them the Book of Mormon by referencing a fantasy map. And they teach them to trust the intellectuals over the prophets.

In my view, that is a serious breach of their fiduciary duty.

From time to time, employees of Book of Mormon Central respond to my blog posts in social media or in their Kno-Whys. The predictable argument they will give to this post is to say the current prophets have rejected the teachings of their predecessors about Cumorah. They will cite the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography as evidence.

That anonymous Gospel Topics Essay has been changed once without notice and could change again at any moment. It does not even address the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah, from Letter VII through General Conference addresses by members of the First Presidency. 

I view the Gospel Topics Essay as a reasonable and understandable effort to accommodate multiple points of view and eliminate contention, not as a repudiation of past prophets and apostles. 

I've been informed that the committee that wrote the essay did not give the Brethren an alternative to consider; i.e., they did not submit a version that started with "Except for the New York Cumorah, the Church has no position..."

In fact, after I pointed out that the first version of the Gospel Topics Essay quoted from Pres. Ivins' 1929 General Conference talk, but omitted his 1928 General Conference talk that reaffirmed Letter VII, the committee simply removed Pres. Ivins altogether from the second version of the Gospel Topics Essay. The committee does not want members of the Church to even know what the prophets and apostles have taught about this topic. 

Like Volume 1 of Saints, the Gospel Topics Essay completely avoids the term Cumorah.

That's consistent with the way the Correlation Department edited the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith lesson manual; i.e., they are intentionally censoring the teachings of the prophets that contradict M2C.

Of course, at any moment the Church could issue a third version of the Gospel Topics Essay that specifically rejects what past prophets and apostles have taught about the New York Cumorah. Maybe the Brethren will actually sign such a document instead of leaving it anonymous.

But until that happens, the M2C scholars would do well to re-consider their approach and try implementing brother Welch's excellent advice to BYU students.

This would entail:


(i) the correctness of a text (Letters IV, VII, and VIII), 

(ii) the truthfulness of a proposition (that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York), or 

(iii) the wisdom of an instruction given by one in authority (President Cowdery and all of his successors in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve who have ever addressed this issue).  
I realize that the M2C intellectuals have invested decades of sunk costs into their theories. That makes it especially difficult to implement brother Welch's advice. 

But as he said, this effort leads to the type of "discoveries that have given me the greatest satisfaction."

I'm confident that, should they decide to heed brother Welch's advice (instead of his example), the M2C scholars, too, will make discoveries that will give them the greatest satisfaction.

*M2C is the acronym for "Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory" that teaches President Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and all their contemporaries and successors were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

1 comment:

  1. There might be some hope on the horizon in the very near future. If you look at this 3 July 2018 news article at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/season-two-filming-of-book-of-mormon-videos-wraps-up?lang=eng, you can see a few snippets of the filming of Book of Mormon videos (end of 2nd year of a 6-year project). The location of the filming is Hobble Creek Canyon, near Springville UT. Most of the buildings appear to be simple thatched roof huts except for one temple scene utilizing a bigger building. It’s hard to tell for sure until the videos are released. Perhaps they will be used in the 2020 Book of Mormon Study in Sunday School and Seminaries and Institutes. This initial appearance seems to reflect little or no Mayan scenery.

    There is one very disturbing quote near the beginning of the article. It states, "Set in Hobble Creek Canyon near Springville, Utah, the sets include scenes of settlements from the Book of Mormon in addition to an ancient temple. Sister (name and position deleted), also spoke to Mormon Newsroom about the authentic feel of the scenery.
    “I have been in small towns in Latin America, and I just … feel like I’m in one of them,” she said. “So many details reminded me of family members like my grandma, my aunts, my mom. And I think they did a great job in setting the tone here for the filming of the videos.”"

    This expired casting call (Book of Mormon Visual Library, Year 3) from 11 Oct 2018 sends mixed signals about Book of Mormon event locations. Sad, very sad...