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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Fragility of Goodness, Church history, and M2C

Butterfly theory
It's interesting to look back at history and see inflection points, tipping points, butterfly wings flapping, and the fragility of goodness.

What made me think of this was yesterday, the Utah Jazz of the NBA (National Basketball Association) lost the seventh game in a best-of-seven playoff series by 2 points. A last-second shot by Mike Conley would have won the game but the ball rimmed out.
A terrific article by Andy Larsen discussed the game with a philosophical bent:

One inch, maybe two, determines whether that Mike Conley 3-point shot goes down.

If it does fall through the net: it’s ecstasy.... Since it didn’t: The Jazz blew a 3-1 series lead.

Of course, it’s not just Conley’s shot. If the Jazz shoot more than 23% from deep in Game 7, after absolutely setting the nets on fire for the rest of the series, they win. If they get one more foul on a Mitchell drive, the game likely goes to overtime. If Juwan Morgan, of all people, makes his free-throws they win. If Jokic misses one more moonbeam of a shot. If a foul is called on the shot pictured above. If the Jazz lose their focus defensively on one fewer possession in the first half. You can do this kind of thing all night. Quin Snyder will.

But we’re all living small margins away from disaster....

There’s a phrase that I like for this idea in modern philosophy: The Fragility of Goodness. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last six months, as our world has become unfamiliar and difficult due to small things ballooning into big things. What happens if one random bat’s coronavirus doesn’t jump to one human? It wasn’t inevitable. 


The concept of the Fragility of Goodness seems related to the Butterfly Effect, described this way:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

Think about what initial conditions--what butterfly wings flapping--have led to the larger, difference today when we have LDS scholars who directly and openly repudiate the teachings of the prophets about such basics as the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

1. One was Joseph's decision to not record a history until 1832, and then only an abbreviated history. Joseph's contemporaries who heard him speak and who succeeded him in the leadership of the Church all believed and taught the basics about the New York Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim, but by not making it explicit enough, Joseph and Oliver and the others left the door open just enough that these teachings have now been de-correlated and replaced by the theories of intellectuals (M2C and SITH).

2. Another butterfly was the decision to publish speculative articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons about Book of Mormon geography anonymously. Had William Smith and/or W.W. Phelps identified the author instead of merely writing "Ed" at the end of the article, we would know whether it was Joseph Smith or Benjamin Winchester (or someone else) who wrote these articles that led believers to look to Mayan ruins in Central America for evidence of the Book of Mormon. Instead, we're left with assumptions, comparisons, phony wordprint analysis, and similar speculations.

3. Another butterfly wing flapping was Joseph Smith's decision to omit "New York" and "ancient" from the letter he wrote, first published in the 1842 Times and Seasons and later canonized as D&C 128:20.

20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from [ancient] Cumorah [in New York]! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
(Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

All of his readers knew the Cumorah he referred to was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 near Palmyra, NY. Letter VII had been republished in the 1841 Times and Seasons (as well as the Millennial Star, Gospel Reflector, and Messenger and Advocate). But because Joseph did not reiterate the common knowledge, modern-day intellectuals rationalize away what he wrote as either a reference to a false tradition that Joseph embraced or a reference to an unknown hill in Southern Mexico.

4. In 1834, Joseph and Oliver published a declaration that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon with the Urim and Thummim, a refutation of the claim that Joseph used a peep stone. But because of the butterfly wing that they did not specifically also say he did not use the peep stone, they left open the door for modern LDS scholars to teach that Joseph didn't actually use the Urim and Thummim after all, but instead used a peep stone. 


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