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, August 29, 2019

Peep stones - part 8 - "de-correlated information"

Most people today are naturally skeptical of any information that is carefully controlled ("correlated" is a euphemism for "controlled," "censored," etc.), whether it comes from government, from a politician, from a business, from an academic institution, or from a church. We all recognize that organizations are self-serving; they have to be. We get that.

That doesn't mean their information is false, of course. We are willing believe what they say, but we follow the adage, "Trust, but verify."

Some people, including critics and LDS intellectuals, apply that adage only to information provided by the Church. 

I apply it to the teachings of LDS intellectuals and find that in most cases, the teachings of the prophets make much more sense and are better supported by the evidence than the teachings of the intellectuals.

We have to give the intellectuals credit for being clever and persistent. The M2C citation cartel and the revisionist Church historians have been successful, in a sense.

Lately, we have a new tactic to consider. We are seeing a process of "de-correlation."

The other day I mentioned the "Faith Crisis" study from 2013 that contributed to the development of the Gospel Topics Essays. Here is a summary found on page 13 of the study.


Understanding the disruptive technology that facilitates Faith Crisis is valuable prior to analyzing this document’s specific Faith Crisis data. Our research team identified four primary factors that drive Faith Crisis: 

1) Unprecedented Access To Uncorrelated Information 

2) Continual Access to Uncorrelated Information 

3) Unprecedented Content Creation and Consumption 

4) The Mormon Moment 

Following a description of these factors, a Faith Crisis example is provided to illustrate the speed and ease in which many of our members are exposed to uncorrelated information that can trigger a Faith Crisis. 

We could spend an entire post just discussing those factors, but by now, six years after the report was submitted, these factors seem self-evident. Everyone knows what "uncorrelated information" is and where you can find it.

But in a strange twist, today "uncorrelated information" includes some of the basic teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery!

I call this "de-correlated information."

One example of "de-correlated information" is the Wentworth letter. Many readers here will find this unbelievable, but it's true.

Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter in 1842 to summarize the origins of the Church, the Book of Mormon, etc. The letter contains the 13 Articles of Faith. Joseph asked Mr. Wentworth to publish it complete. But Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Wentworth. He needed to worry about the Correlation Department.

The Correlation Department censored part of the Wentworth letter in the lesson manual, Teachings of the Prophets: Joseph Smith, discussed here:


Of course, the censorship was driven by the desire to accommodate M2C. That was the same rational the Church History Department used to "de-correlate information" about the New York Cumorah from Saints, Volume 1, discussed here:


It's astonishing that the well-known New York Cumorah and important parts of the Wentworth letter are "uncorrelated information" today, but that's the reality.

A third category of "de-correlated information" today is what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

The term "disruptive technology" in the Faith Crisis study is borrowed from Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which the study discusses on p. 12, including the following excerpt: 

Although the Church is—in many defining ways—clearly differentiated from a business, it also has numerous parallels to a large, well-run corporation. While this provides the membership (and the world) many needed benefits, it also results in a Church structure that is slow to change. 

For the first time in our history, the Church can no longer control its own message—and, therefore, its own narrative—to its membership. For a religion focused so heavily on its history, the uncorrelated presentation of Church history via the Internet and social media are proving to be a “disruption”for today’s Church. 

Considering the parallels the institutional Church has with a highly structured and efficient business organization (which comes with inherent resistance to change) combined with the disruption caused by an uncorrelated history on the Internet and Social Media, our Faith Crisis research team believes the long-term health and vitality of the institutional Church are at risk. Immediate, bold, and innovative action is needed to address the threat posed by Faith Crisis. [emphasis added]

The Gospel Topics Essays were one example of this "bold and innovative action."

I suppose everyone agrees that it was important for the Church to provide reference pages for members to consult when they encounter "uncorrelated information" on the Internet or from friends and family. The challenge is deciding what such reference pages should contain.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that these essays have caused many people to lose their faith.

IOW, the Gospel Topics essays have contributed to the "faith crisis." 

Was it because of the "uncorrelated information" the essays contained, or was it because of the approach and framing used in the essays to "de-correlate" the teachings of the prophets?

What do you think?

Most of us who are faithful, believing Latter-day Saints have long known about all the "uncorrelated information" that exists. It strikes me as incredibly naive for the scholars who wrote this study to say "for the first time in our history, the Church can no longer control its own message." Did they never hear of Mormonism Unvailed, published in 1834?

Long before the Internet, you would have to be living in a cave to be unaware of anti-Mormon arguments and information. Much of Church-related literature (not to mention General Conference addresses) involved responses to critics.

This is why I say,

The Internet is not the problem.* 

The problem is the way LDS intellectuals have embraced the arguments of the critics and rejected the teachings of the prophets, and then used the Academic Cycle so that their theories have permeated LDS culture.

It's very simple.

The table below sets out two scenarios, A and B.

For about 150 years, Church leaders taught Scenario A, with full knowledge of all the information behind Scenario B (which had been set out in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed and promoted by critics ever since). In the 1980s, though, Scenario B began to be taught by LDS intellectuals.

Now the information that supports Scenario A has been largely "de-correlated" in favor of the information that supports scenario B. Scenario B is being taught throughout the Church in preference to scenario A, as exemplified by the Gospel Topics Essay.

Which scenario is more believable, A or B?

A. What Joseph and Oliver taught
B. What others taught
Joseph Smith translated the characters on the plates using the Nephite interpreters that had been prepared for that purpose and placed with the plates in the stone box. 

Joseph Smith didn't use the plates or the Nephite interpreters but instead read words that appeared on a stone he found in a well, which he placed into a hat to block the light. He didn't use the plates, which were under a cloth or outside the entire time.
Moroni said the record had been "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home in Palmyra and that in was Joseph’s privilege, if obedient, “to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.”

Moroni never said what Joseph and Oliver claimed he said. This statement was Oliver speculating and Joseph accepting that speculation.
The record was actually written in Mesoamerica, thousands of miles away from Joseph’s home in Palmyra. Joseph did obtain the record but he didn’t translate it with the Urim and Thummim that were deposited with the record.
For 1,000 years, Nephite prophets had carefully written and preserved their history. Jaredite prophets had kept their record before that. Mormon abridged the Nephite history and gave the abridgment to Moroni, who added the Jaredite abridgment and his own writings.

For 1,000 years, Nephite prophets had carefully written and preserved their history. Jaredite prophets had kept their record before that. Mormon abridged the Nephite history and gave the abridgment to Moroni, who added the Jaredite abridgment and his own writings.

They did all of this so the future prophet could translate their engravings into English.
They did all of this so the future prophet could use the plates as a talisman while he read words off the stone he found in a well.
Moroni deposited the abridged record in the hill Cumorah near Joseph's home.
Moroni hauled the plates, along with the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the breastplate and Nephite interpreters, thousands of miles from Central America to an obscure, nameless hill in western New York.
Joseph showed the plates he had translated to the witnesses as proof that he actually translated ancient engravings. 
Joseph showed the plates he never used to the witnesses as proof that what he read off the stone in a hat was true. 

Scenario A
This is where the framing is so important.

We all recognize that there is historical data to support both scenarios. But the historical information also shows that these were alternative scenarios, not different ways of saying the same thing.**

Today, our intellectuals (mainly the M2C citation cartel and the revisionist historians) are trying to persuade people to replace Scenario A with Scenario B.

The youth in the Church, as well as the world at large, are being taught Scenario B. Thanks to "de-correlation" of the New York Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim, younger generations will never even learn scenario A.
Scenario B

Long experience has shown that those who accepted scenario B tended to be critics from outside the Church. That seems natural to me; scenario B is simply unbelievable. Plus, it has the added feature of casting doubt on the teachings of the prophets, starting with Joseph and Oliver.

Do I have to spell out where all of this is headed?


The Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation is a fascinating document. People ask about it all the time. I have an entire chapter on it in my upcoming book.

Two features of the Gospel Topics Essays stand out:

1. These essays are all anonymous.

2. They are subject to change without notice and without an edit record so readers can see what was changed and when.)

The most striking thing about the translation essay is the absence of what Joseph and Oliver claimed. Their teachings have been largely "de-correlated."

Look at this paragraph:

Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.

"Latter-day Saints later understood?" From the outset, Joseph and Oliver consistently described the Urim and Thummim as the Nephite interpreters that came with the plates. They never once referred to any seer stone Joseph found in a well.

Instead, they consistently and persistently said Joseph translated with the specific Urim and Thummim.

But this is now "de-correlated information."

Consider this: the Gospel Topics Essay on Translation cites Joseph Smith—History exactly once!

And it cites verses 33–34 (see note 3).

Any guess what is found in verse 35?

Yep. the "de-correlated" verse 35 explains Scenario A and contradicts Scenario B.

35 Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

This verse is never quoted in the essay. One would think that in a Gospel Topics Essay on Translation, published on the Church's website, we would see Joseph Smith-History not only cited in a footnote, but quoted prominently.

But we don't.

Here are some more verses that were "de-correlated" (censored) from the essay. Each of these is highly relevant to the question of translation and making sense of all the evidence.

42 Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed.

52 Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger.

62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.

Why do you think the essay de-correlates these verses from the Pearl of Great Price? Why do you think the essay fails to quote or even cite any of the teachings of the prophets that support Scenario A?

Why do you think the essay instead quotes extensively from Emma Smith's "Last Testimony" and from various writings of the intellectuals who are pushing Scenario B?

Here's another example. The Elders' Journal published this Q&A.

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.

(Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal 1 (July 1838): 42-43, The Joseph Smith Papers,

The essay doesn't provide this quotation, or even a reference to it, but it does cite the Elders' Journal on the topic of treasure seeking (note 19).

Joseph's statement here has been "de-correlated."

I could go on, but you can do your own research and see what's going on here.

Let's summarize.

The Internet is not the problem.

"Uncorrelated information" is not the problem.

The problem is "de-correlated information" and the promotion of the theories of intellectuals instead of the teachings of the prophets.


*If the "Faith Crisis" study is correct--if the Internet has had this dramatic impact--there must have been a lot of Church members who, prior to the Internet, never considered religious material outside of what the Church and its affiliates produced.

How can such an attitude constitute a search for truth?

Come to think of it, I encounter such Church members even today. They typically believe M2C and have no idea what the prophets have taught because M2C intellectuals carefully control and correlate their materials, censoring information that contradicts M2C.

Eventually, though, most people discover "uncorrelated information" on their own, including the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon.

** The obvious explanation for the two scenarios is that Joseph and Oliver described the translation, while the others described demonstrations of the technique. Joseph couldn't show anyone the plates or the Urim and Thummim, but to satisfy curiosity, he used the stone in a hat to convey the concept. People inferred they were watching the actual translation.

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