Wednesday, October 20, 2021

JS letter to OC, Oct 1829, and visiting with M2C/SITH scholars

The earliest extant sample of Joseph Smith's writing is a letter he wrote to Oliver Cowdery in October 1829. It includes this wonderful passage:

the people are all friendly to <​us​> except a few who are in opposition to evry thing unless it is something that is axactly like themselves

The passage reminds me of what it is like when I visit with M2C/SITH scholars. [BTW, if you're reading this post on Amazon,, or another site, you're missing the additional resources, including explanations of acronyms, on the original blog, here:]

We all love our critics, but it's sad to see how they still resist new ideas--especially new faithful ideas. After all, their education was supposed to give them confidence and competence instead of defensiveness and intransigence. 

Serious scholars would readily and happily spell out all the facts and then compare multiple working hypotheses. But our M2C/SITH scholars continue to refuse to do that. Within the last month I met with several of them and the answer is still the same: no. 

They are obsessed with trying to persuade people to agree with their theories. The last thing they want is for Latter-day Saints to make fully informed decisions.

It's the same with CES Letter, John Dehlin, and other critics. They delude their followers by pretending to seek "the truth" when in reality they share the approach of our M2C/SITH scholars; i.e., they support their personal theories with selective quotations and logical and factual fallacies instead of putting out all the evidence and showing multiple working hypotheses so fully informed people can make good decisions.

Both sides rely on lazy learners who defer to their respective "expertise."

I prefer the approach President Nelson encourages. "Good inspiration is based upon good information." 


The October 1829 letter obviously contradicts Emma's famous claim that Joseph couldn't write or dictate a letter (unless he attended an intense writing school during July-Sept 1829 when he was arranging the publication of the Book of Mormon).

The source note explains that this is a copy of the original letter, so it isn't necessarily an exact copy of Joseph's spelling. "JS, Letter, Harmony Township, Susquehanna Co., PA, to Oliver Cowdery, [Palmyra Township, NY], 22 Oct. 1829. Featured version copied [between ca. 27 Nov. 1832 and ca. Jan. 1833] in JS Letterbook 1, p. 9; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; JS Collection, CHL."


The letter also contains considerable non-biblical, non-Book of Mormon terminology and phrasing, another indication of the sources of Joseph's lexicon. I agree with those who still believe Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates "after the manner of his language."  

I've annotated the letter here: 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Midnight Mormons, Heartland, and the M2C citation cartel

Yesterday, Midnight Mormons discussed the Heartland theory of Book of Mormon geography/historicity.

The Midnight Mormons are good guys, trying to do something positive. We respect that. But they don't live up to their motto, as described on twitter:

We aren’t apologists, we are radio hosts who call out B.S. when we see it.

You can't call out B.S. from a position of ignorance. 

They need to up their game, because everyone can see that CESLetter and John Dehlin are lapping Midnight Mormons (and the M2C citation cartel*) when it comes to informed discussions of Church history, Book of Mormon historicity, and other issues. That explains the disparity in views and subscribers, not to mention outcomes. 

Faithful Latter-day Saints should be the best-informed people in the world on these issues, but that's impossible if they rely on the M2C citation cartel for their information. 

To his credit, at least Kwaku has a somewhat open mind and has looked into a few things. He explained that his M2C bias comes from his friends. The other two, not so much. 

Cardon Ellis asked "what was the narrow neck of land that shows up in like 20 different books." (Actually, it shows up only once, in Ether 10:20**). 

Brad Witbeck admitted he's not "super familiar" with the issues (as if that's a feature, not a bug) and yet he acted as the authority on the show, spouting the talking points he's learned from FairLatterdaysaints and the rest of the M2C citation cartel.

Before Midnight Mormons discuss the Book of Mormon, they need to graduate from elementary Letter VII school. They can start here:

Then they can attend Cumorah school, starting here:

Naturally, they'll consult their friends at Book of Mormon Central, FairLatterdaysaints, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. We'll save them some time, because the cartel has one answer:

Midnight Mormons' display of ignorance was shocking, but not surprising. The Midnight Mormons are victims of the M2C citation cartel that uses "disinformation by omission" to keep their readers, students, followers, and donors in ignorance. Midnight Mormons trotted out all the superficial caricatures that the M2C citation cartel has imprinted on the minds of their followers. 

Take Book of Mormon Central as an example. They continue to promote M2C as the only acceptable interpretation of the Book of Mormon. They expressly repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, to the point where Midnight Mormons don't even mention Cumorah, which is the key the prophets have given to understand the setting of the Book of Mormon.


This should be a wake-up call for anyone who still doesn't understand what is happening to the younger generations of the Church.

Thanks to the M2C citation cartel, they are dwindling in unbelief and ignorance. 

Or, as Paul explained, they are "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7) Watch the way Midnight Mormons stumbled through various speculation about geography, focusing on the "narrow neck" and "snow" instead of the core Cumorah issue.

Let's liken the scriptures unto us, starting with Mosiah 26:1-2.

1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries and successors, being little children at the time they spake unto their people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.

 2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the New York Cumorah, neither did they believe concerning the translation of the Book of Mormon from the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

Those of us who are "seasoned" members of the Church are still familiar with the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. They were in our Institute and Seminary manuals. We learned Church history before the New York Cumorah was "de-correlated" by the Saints book. We still read the original documents in the Joseph Smith Papers so we can see how the Saints book promoted a specific agenda instead of accurately representing what historical figures actually thought.

The M2C citation cartel has managed to create a situation in which faithful Latter-day Saints who want to know what the prophets have taught about Cumorah turn to critics of the Church such as CES Letter and MormonStories.

That should change. Immediately.

Midnight Mormons should help educate the "rising generation" instead of encouraging ignorance.


*M2C = Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, which teaches that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled everyone about the New York Cumorah until modern LDS scholars figured out that the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico.

**The "narrow neck of land" in Ether 10:20 is a reference from a different civilization and different time than the Nephite references to a different "small neck" and a "narrow neck" which, because it didn't mention land, was likely a waterway. M2C scholars conflate the three features to make their geography work. Common usage of the term "narrow neck" by early Americans, including George Washington, show that the term can apply to any number of ordinary geographical features.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

More disinformation from the Interpreter

For years, I've been advocating an approach to Church history and Book of Mormon historicity that focuses on established facts accompanied by multiple working hypotheses (interpretations) of those facts. This is a normal, expected academic/scientific approach to any topic. It leads to truth because everyone can see the facts for themselves and then follow the logic and assumptions of the alternative hypotheses. People can reach different conclusions, but at least everyone is making informed decisions.

To date, our M2C scholars and their citation cartel (Book of Mormon Central, FairLatterdaySaints, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, etc.) have refused to agree with this approach. 

Instead, they deliberately keep their students and their followers (and donors) uninformed, misinformed, and disinformed. 

They don't want Latter-day Saints to even know what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, let alone know about the extrinsic evidence that corroborates and supports what the prophets have taught. 

These scholars have invested their careers into M2C, and they fear most Latter-day Saints would reject M2C if they knew all the facts and compared M2C to the alternatives that vindicate the teachings of the prophets. 

IOW, they don't trust Latter-day Saints to make informed decisions because they know most informed Latter-day Saints would reject M2C.

It's a self-defeating approach because, thanks to the de-correlation of the New York Cumorah, more and more Latter-day Saints (and prospective Latter-day Saints) are learning what the prophets have taught from critical sources who frame the issue in a negative way that, as Joseph Fielding Smith predicted, causes members to "become confused and disturbed in their faith."

It would be far healthier and productive for Latter-day Saints to learn in Church and CES/BYU materials what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. Back when the Church was growing rapidly, Seminary and Institute manuals did still teach what the prophets have taught.

Nevertheless, our M2C scholars persist in censoring the New York Cumorah. I've pointed out many examples of how the M2C citation cartel does this. Today we'll look at another one published recently in the Interpreter.


Readers here will not be surprised to learn that the Interpreter continues to publish disinformation about Book of Mormon historicity/geography issues. I discussed a recent example here:

Next week, we'll look at another example from the 2021 Joseph Smith Papers Conference.

When M2C scholars resort to disinformation to maintain the illusion that M2C makes sense, they expose their own insecurity.

The graphic below explains that the difference between misinformation and disinformation is a matter of intention. (click to enlarge).


The Interpreter article is part of a series of articles that purport to use sophisticated statistical analysis to support the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. It's a transparent exercise in confirmation bias, which is fine; people enjoy having their biases confirmed, regardless of the validity of the argument. 

This article focuses on the resolution of alleged anachronisms in the text, which is also fine.

The disinformation arises from the article's gratuitous and deceitful claim that a geography model based on what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah does not resolve the alleged anachronisms in the text. 

At first glance, readers might assume the claim was based on excusable (but regrettable) ignorance; i.e., misinformation. After all, anyone who relies on the Interpreter for information about Church history and Book of Mormon historicity gets a steady diet of biased disinformation about the New York Cumorah and related topics.

But because the claim is one of the major premises of the article, and because the author purports to be objective and fact-based, it's difficult to excuse the errors on mere mistake.  

Here's an excerpt from my analysis of the Interpreter article, which refers to another article about anachronisms.

The article lists criticisms of the Book of Mormon based on alleged anachronisms, starting with those in Mormonism Unvailed. However, the anachronisms were a bit of a red herring. Even in the 1830s, people knew the Bible contained anachronisms (e.g., candles instead of lamps), but anachronisms that arise from translation are understandable, even expected. Translators use their own lexicon and culture to translate; otherwise, their work wouldn't be a translation. Anachronisms didn't prove the Bible was false.

The overriding objection to the Book of Mormon was that it was not a translation.

Which, perversely, is what LDS scholars are trying to prove today! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Inspiration for Dune and M2C

I didn't realize that Frank Herbert was inspired to write Dune after visiting the sand dunes on the Oregon coast near where I live. 

We've been there many times.

How ‘Dune’ was inspired by the Oregon coast, at the beautiful Oregon Dunes (

Because while the world imagined in classic sci-fi novel “Dune” may be entirely alien, Pacific Northwest author Frank Herbert first dreamed it up on a visit to the Oregon Dunes just outside Florence.

Coincidentally, some of the Book of Mormon videos were filmed along the Oregon coast as well.


Although there are still some Latter-day Saints who believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, most Latter-day Saints have been taught to repudiate those teachings in favor of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), which claims the "real Cumorah" is somewhere in southern Mexico.

Just as Frank Herbert imagined an entire dune world based on his visit to the Oregon dunes, our friends who promote M2C have imagined an entire setting for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, based on the ideas of L.E. Hills whose 1917 map generated the M2C theory.

Ever since, they've been reinterpreting the text of the Book of Mormon to conform to whatever discoveries are made about Mayan culture in Mesoamerica


More recently, CES and BYU teachers have taught an even more fanciful setting for the Book of Mormon. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Getting offended

Some of our M2C* and SITH** friends continue to get offended when we discuss the topics of Book of Mormon historicity and translation from a faithful perspective that supports and corroborates the teachings of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries and successors, all of whom taught the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates with the Nephite interpreters. 

Getting offended is an emotional approach that obscures and prevents rational analysis of facts, scriptures, teachings of the prophets, etc. It's far more productive to share views and information and let people make their own informed decisions.

Offended people get defensive and resort to logical and factual fallacies. 

We see frequent examples on the web sites of Fairlatterdaysaints, CESLetter, the InterpreterFoundation, mormonstories, and everyone else who accepts M2C and SITH. 

None of these organizations want people to make informed decisions. They all keep people focused on their M2C and SITH narratives because they know that once people understand there are alternatives, they will no longer depend on these organizations to tell them what to think.

Naval explained why people get offended when they confront alternatives to their worldview.

"You’re offended when you fear that it might be true."

_____* M2C = Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the Hill Cumorah in New York.**SITH = stone-in-the-hat theory that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone because Joseph never really translated the plates and didn't use the Nephite interpreters

Monday, October 4, 2021

Temple in Madagascar

Yesterday, President Nelson announced a temple would be built in Antananarivo, Madagascar. We were particularly happy about that one because we lived in Mauritius and spent a week in Madagascar. The new temple will have a tremendous impact on the Latter-day Saints in that area, as well as on their friends, families and neighbors.

Plus, our new illustrated book about Church history from an African perspective is set in Madagascar. The artist is from Madagascar and currently lives in Mauritius. He's a well-known political cartoonist who is very talented, as you can see from the illustrations.

For today's post, we'll use images to tell the story. (click to enlarge)

BTW, this was the same trip during which we visited Moroni, the capital of Comoros, with two books I was working through at the time: Royal Skousen's book on the History of the Language and the Annotated Book of Mormon (see the last two photos).

 Back cover

Front Cover

Explaining temples

In Madagascar

 Antananarivo, with the Mission Home in the distance

Lemurs like salt!

Lemur on the shoulder


Make Cumorah Great Again

Moroni, Comoros, with the Annotated Book of Mormon
Moroni, Comoros, with Royal Skousen's book

Friday, October 1, 2021

America's Destiny... and the Church's destiny?

In the General Conference prior to the U.S. 1976 Bicentennial celebration, President Marion G. Romney gave one of the all-time conference classics. 

Reading it now, 45 years later, the message is even more impactful.

There is an annotated version of the video here:

President Romney said, 

In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.

Within 25 years of President Romney's talk, the New York Cumorah was gradually de-correlated. Certain LDS scholars insisted that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely ignorant speculators who misled the Church because, according to these scholars, the "real Cumorah" was somewhere in southern Mexico.

That began the gradual repudiation of other things Joseph and Oliver taught, such as their claim that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Nephite interpreters.

Now we're at the point where the most prominent critics of the Church and the most prominent LDS scholars and apologists agree that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about the New York Cumorah and the translation, and that they misled the world about those two key elements of the Restoration.

Everyone can see the obvious results of rejecting what Joseph and Oliver taught. As Joseph Fielding Smith warned, Church members are confused and disturbed in their faith.

People can believe whatever they want, of course, but the healthiest approach would be recognizing that there are many faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

Some of us can still read and accept what President Romney taught, as well.


While America has had a unique and critical role to play in the Restoration, it is no longer the sole gathering place for the Saints.

Modern prophets have explained this quite clearly. 

This gathering of Israel and this building of Zion in the last days occurs in stages. The early part of the work, which involved gathering to the United States and building stakes of Zion in North America, has already been accomplished. We are now engaged in gathering Israel within the various nations of the earth and in establishing stakes of Zion at the ends of the earth. This is the work that is now going forward in all of the nations of South America and of which I shall now speak.

As is well known, ancient Israel was scattered among all the nations of the earth because they forsook the Lord and worshipped false gods. As is also well known, the gathering of Israel consists of receiving the truth, gaining again a true knowledge of the Redeemer, and coming back into the true fold of the Good Shepherd. In the language of the Book of Mormon, it consists of being “restored to the true church and fold of God,” and then being “gathered” and “established” in various “lands of promise.” (2 Ne. 9:2.) “When they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.” (2 Ne. 6:11.)

Two things are accomplished by the gathering of Israel: First, those who have thus chosen Christ as their Shepherd; those who have taken upon themselves his name in the waters of baptism; those who are seeking to enjoy his Spirit here and now and to be inheritors of eternal life hereafter—such people need to be gathered together to strengthen each other and to help one another perfect their lives.

And second, those who are seeking the highest rewards in eternity need to be where they can receive the blessings of the house of the Lord, both for themselves and for their ancestors in Israel who died without a knowledge of the gospel, but who would have received it with all their heart had opportunity afforded.

Manifestly in the early days of this dispensation, this meant gathering to the mountain of the Lord’s house in the tops of the mountains of North America. There alone were congregations strong enough for the Saints to strengthen each other. There alone were the temples of the Most High where the fulness of the ordinances of exaltation are performed.

However, in the providences of Him who knoweth all things, in the providences of Him who scattered Israel and who is now gathering that favored people again, the day has now come when the fold of Christ is reaching out to the ends of the earth. We are not established in all nations, but we surely shall be before the second coming of the Son of Man.

As the Book of Mormon says, in the last days, “the saints of God” shall be found “upon all the face of the earth.” Also: “The saints of the church of the Lamb and … the covenant people of the Lord”—scattered as they are “upon all the face of the earth”—shall be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Ne. 14:12, 14.)

We are living in a new day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fast becoming a worldwide church. Congregations of Saints are now, or soon will be, strong enough to support and sustain their members no matter where they reside. Temples are being built wherever the need justifies. We can foresee many temples in South America in process of time.

Stakes of Zion are also being organized at the ends of the earth. In this connection, let us ponder these truths: A stake of Zion is a part of Zion. You cannot create a stake of Zion without creating a part of Zion. Zion is the pure in heart; we gain purity of heart by baptism and by obedience. A stake has geographical boundaries. To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area.

The gathering place for Peruvians is in the stakes of Zion in Peru, or in the places which soon will become stakes. The gathering place for Chileans is in Chile; for Bolivians it is in Bolivia; for Koreans it is in Korea; and so it goes through all the length and breadth of the earth. Scattered Israel in every nation is called to gather to the fold of Christ, to the stakes of Zion, as such are established in their nations.

Isaiah prophesied that the Lord “shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” The Lord’s promise is: “Ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.” (Isa. 27:6, 12.)

That is to say—Israel shall be gathered one by one, family by family, unto the stakes of Zion established in all parts of the earth so that the whole earth shall be blessed with the fruits of the gospel.

This then is the counsel of the Brethren: Build up Zion, but build it up in the area where God has given you birth and nationality. Build it up where he has given you citizenship, family, and friends. Zion is here in South America and the Saints who comprise this part of Zion are and should be a leavening influence for good in all these nations.

And know this: God will bless that nation which so orders its affairs as to further his work.

(1977, April, Bruce R. McConkie, Come: Let Israel Build Zion, ¶21 • CR)

The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be “brought to the knowledge of the Lord” without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people “shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.” “Every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is “the pure in heart.” Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, and congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances, and blessings of the gospel, regardless of their location.

Spiritual security will always depend upon how one lives, not where one lives. Saints in every land have equal claim upon the blessings of the Lord.

(2006, October, Russell M. Nelson, The Gathering of Scattered…, ¶38–39 • CR)

There is much said in the scriptures about the gathering of the Saints. In the early days, the call went out to converts all over the world to gather to Zion. And they came, first as a trickle, and then as a stream. The Zion to which they came was under terrible persecution and was greatly strengthened by their very numbers.
In an area conference held in Mexico City in 1972, Bruce R. McConkie said: “[The] revealed words speak of … there being congregations of … covenant people of the Lord in every nation, speaking every tongue, and among every people when the Lord comes again. …

“The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; the place of gathering for the Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. … Every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” (Mexico and Central America Area Conference, 26 Aug. 1972, p. 45.)

The following April, President Harold B. Lee quoted those words in general conference, and, in effect, announced that the pioneering phase of gathering was now over. The gathering is now to be out of the world into the Church in every nation. (See Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 7.)

(1992, October, Boyd K. Packer, “To Be Learned Is Good If …”, ¶11–16 • CR)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Answering the CES Letter by examining assumptions

Recently when I did a presentation on the translation, someone pointed out that the Gospel Topics Essay on the translation says Joseph used SITH (stone-in-the-hat). I replied that those essays have not been canonized, are anonymous, subject to change any time without notice, and are essentially the theories of scholars that don't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said, let alone embrace what they said.

I'll stick with Joseph and Oliver.

This event reminded me of the way LDS apologists have responded to the CES Letter by basically agreeing with the assumptions at the foundation of the CES Letter, but disagreeing on the conclusions.

It makes more sense to examine the assumptions, which I've done here.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Facts, filters and hypotheses

I put together some graphics to simplify the important concepts about facts and analysis. By applying this model, we can see why LDS apologists are failing. They basically agree with the critics regarding fundamental aspects of the Book of Mormon.

It's no wonder so many Latter-day Saints, former LDS, and prospective LDS, are so confused. When they read or hear LDS scholars agreeing with the critics on such basic points, they are led to inquire themselves. But our LDS scholars have habitually and persistently censored and obfuscated the facts that support the teachings of the prophets, and most people aren't experienced enough to know where to find good information. They end up deferring to the scholars/critics and become confused and disturbed in their faith.

This is all essentially a thinking error that we can rectify once we identify the error.


First, there are objective facts, including historical and scientific, that everyone can agree exist. 

For example, an automobile collision occurs. At an intersection, a blue car struck the right side of a green car. Both cars stopped. The blue car is perpendicular to the green car. A police officer with a bodycam shows up and asked a bystander what happened. The bystander says, "The blue car ran the red light." The fact that the bystander made the statement is a fact everyone can agree exists (assuming the bodycam accurately recorded the statement). 

The existence of the bystander's statement is a fact, but the veracity of the statement is a separate issue. 

Second, we filter the facts with analysis, denial, assumptions, inferences, etc. Analysis includes scrutiny of the reliability and credibility of facts. 

For example, the police officer may follow up by asking, "Where you here when it happened?" The bystander might say "No, but a friend of mine was and he told me." The original statement is based on hearsay, not personal observation, and is unreliable.

Or, the bystander might say, "Yes." Then the officer asks, "Tell me what you saw." The bystander says, "I heard the crash and looked up. The light was red." Now we see the bystander was present but didn't actually observe what he claimed was a fact. He made an assumption or inference.

Further investigation could reveal that it was the green car that ran a red light, exactly the opposite of what the bystander stated, even if the bystander thought he was telling the truth.

Critical analysis can be effective at separating truth from untruth, but there are other ways in which people filter facts. They deny facts they don't want to accept. They make assumptions and/or inference based on the facts they do know. They make logical errors, including comparison errors, that lead to erroneous conclusions. 

Cross-examination could filter out unreliable testimony, but we can't cross-examine historical figures. That's why we have a third step.

Third, we think of working hypotheses that may explain some or all of the evidence. Because different people filter the facts differently, we usually have multiple working hypotheses. Then we evaluate the hypotheses to see how well they explain the facts.


A good example is the way organizations that purport to have contradictory hypotheses actually share the same filter on basic facts. (click to enlarge)

These groups all applied one filter to the facts: the filter that the prophets were wrong. To understand how these groups reached different hypotheses despite sharing the same filter, we can apply a graphical model of the process.


Here's the basic graphic.

The next time you consider Church history, apply this model and see if you can come up with a solution in the form of a hypothesis that explains more facts. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Multiple working hypotheses-geography

I often refer to "multiple working hypotheses." The concept means a variety of interpretations of the same facts. I'm all in favor of different ideas. What I don't favor is censorship, omitting facts, and conflating facts with assumptions, opinion, inferences, hearsay, etc. 

People often ask for a good resource that compares the various geographical theories. A few years ago, we agreed in principle with Book of Mormon Central to create an open source comparison, but they reneged on the agreement so nothing was ever done. They still don't want people to consider multiple working hypotheses based on all the facts. 

But I do. 

One resource that presents multiple working hypotheses is here:

This is one of the best sites I'm aware of for info about the Book of Mormon. 

I'm told that Book of Mormon Central acquired the site, which may explain the editorial bias evident throughout. (Yes, I realize that one could argue this site contradicts my claim that BMC doesn't want people to consider multiple working hypotheses, but the site had these maps before BMC acquired it.) 

Hover your cursor over "Internal," "Mesoamerica," and "Heartland" and you'll see what I mean about editorial bias. 

The "Internal" map is the self-serving Sorenson M2C interpretation of the text, which CES and BYU have adopted when they created their fantasy maps. Predictably, this "internal" map is designed to imprint Mesoamerica on the minds of all who see it. 

I'm fine with the idea of an "internal map" so long as the assumptions are clearly stated and alternative internal maps are also considered. However, this site will never show alternative internal maps because of the M2C bias.

The "Mesoamerican" map description uses the typical appeal to authority fallacy: "subscribed to by most mainstream LDS scholars at BYU and the Maxwell Institute." In reality, the Maxwell Institute takes no position on the question, there has never been a poll of "mainstream LDS scholars at BYU," many of whom don't accept Mesoamerica, and this appeal to authority boils down to the efforts of a handful of scholars in the M2C citation cartel--including the ones who own this website. Book of Mormon Central insists people must accept M2C to even participate in their efforts to share the Book of Mormon with the world.

That said, there is plenty of evidence to support M2C, provided one first rejects what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. It's a valid "working hypothesis" once you accept the assumptions it relies upon.

And, of course, there are numerous variations among M2C proponents. Such multiple working hypotheses are healthy and productive as we continue to learn more.

The "Heartland" map description frames it as "United States-centric" because one of the favorite M2C criticisms of "Heartland" ideas is the false claim that "Heartland" models are based on patriotism and nationalism. As anyone who actually reads the material knows, the so-called "Heartland" models are based on accepting (instead of repudiating) the New York Cumorah, statements by Joseph Smith and early Church members about what Joseph said, the revelations in the D&C, and relevant extrinsic evidence from archaeology, anthropology, etc. 

Within the "Heartland" scenario, there are several variations, as there are within the M2C scenario. Readers here are presumably familiar with my proposal, which I described in Moroni's America. It differs in some respects from the working hypotheses proposed by Wayne May, Rod Meldrum, and others. For example, here's a detailed working hypothesis called the "Zarahemla Centric Heartland Model" that accepts the New York Cumorah but reaches a conclusion different from mine.

Here again, having multiple working hypotheses is healthy and productive. 

There is a rational basis for all the hypotheses: New York, Costa Rica, Panama, Baja, Sri Lanka, Malay, Peru, Chile, Colombia, etc.


The first step to assessing the multiple working hypotheses is accepting or rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Accepting those teachings leads us to interpret the text accordingly. Rejecting those teachings leads us to interpret the text accordingly. 

Everything else flows from there.

So far as I know, no one is claiming any additional revelation about the geography. It's a matter of interpreting and prioritizing evidence.

For example, I've been told many times by M2C proponents that they reject the New York Cumorah because the text requires them to. That's the argument that RLDS scholar Stebbins made over 100 years ago, and M2C believers today have accepted that argument. All the non-New York Cumorah theories take that approach.

There's nothing irrational about that approach. It's the basis for several legitimate working hypotheses. 

Like me, though, most people realize that Oliver Cowdery knew the Book of Mormon pretty well, and he didn't think the text contradicted his experience when he visited the depository of Nephite records in the "hill in New York" that, according to the M2C scholars, cannot be Cumorah.

But, as I said, people can reasonably believe that Oliver was wrong, that Lucy Mack Smith falsely reported her experiences, that Joseph eventually adopted a false tradition about Cumorah, etc.

After all, now that BYU scholar Royal Skousen has determined that Joseph and Oliver intentionally misled people about the translation of the Book of Mormon, for M2C scholars to conclude that Joseph and Oliver also intentionally misled people about the New York Cumorah is at least consistent--if that's what you want to believe.

Soon I'll post Stebbins' argument, which the M2C proponents have mimicked ever since. See what you think.



Monday, September 13, 2021

Individual responsibility to make informed decisions

I frequently hear from M2C and SITH scholars and their followers who say that we should accept the theories of the credentialed class because they are experts who have studied these things. They've reached a "consensus" about M2C and SITH and they expect all Latter-day Saints to agree with them.

To use President Nelson's term, "lazy learners" defer to others to do their thinking for them. "Engaged learners" study for themselves. They don't bow to credentials.

In yesterday's Face to Face, Elder Bednar said, "We should not expect the Church as an organization to teach or tell us all the things we need to know and do to become devoted disciples and to endure valiantly to the end. Rather, our individual responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become what the Master would have us become."

If we can't expect the Church to teach us everything we need to know, we definitely cannot expect the credentialed class to teach us everything we need to know.

To be sure, scholars have a lot to offer. I respect and admire them for their expertise, diligence, ability to communicate, etc. But we should all recognize the difference between an expert's discovery of and explanation of facts, and that same expert's assumptions, interpretations and conclusions.

It's the same principle whether the "expert" is a believer or an non-believer. If you let the expert assign your opinion to you, you're shirking your individual responsibility.

We embrace facts, and the more the better. For the rest, we consider multiple working hypotheses and decide for ourselves which best explains the totality of the facts and circumstances.

We are each responsible for our own education. We can choose to make our own informed decisions, or we can choose to defer to others and let them make decisions for us. 

If you make an informed decision to believe M2C, great. But if you think you've made an informed decision because you've read materials published by Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairLatterdaysaints, Meridian Magazine, BYU Studies, or any of the rest of the M2C citation cartel, you're kidding yourself. The M2C citation cartel has made deliberate editorial decisions to promote M2C to the exclusion of other faithful interpretations of the scriptures, while also directly and openly repudiating the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

If you want to make informed decisions, read what the M2C citation cartel publishes, but also read what the prophets have taught (such as the compilation here: Notice the things the M2C citation cartel keeps from its readers and followers, such as the extrinsic evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

There is abundant evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets, but you won't read about it in the work of the M2C citation cartel because they expect Latter-day Saints to defer to the M2C experts.

It's the same with SITH, as I discussed last week.

Are you awake yet?


Friday, September 10, 2021

Worst LDS apologist/polemicist

The history of LDS apologetics is a fascinating story that keeps getting more interesting. Lately, it has become a team sport, with the M2C/SITH citation cartel vs. the CESLetter/MormonStories citation cartel. Both teams resort to factual and logical fallacies to rally their respective sides. 

Unfortunately (from my perspective), social media anecdotes, increasingly common personal experiences, and statistical trends indicate that the critics are winning many of these debates. People frequently tell me about friends, family and ward members who have been persuaded by the critical arguments. I've addressed some of the specific critical arguments here and here, but the bigger problem is on the faithful side, because we shouldn't be resorting to logical and factual fallacies to explain and defend our position.

Because I think both cartels actually share assumptions that are invalid and unexamined, I'm taking a look at their methodology and recognizing the worst LDS apologist/polemicist (in my opinion, due to long-lasting influence on other apologists). 

We note that the term "apologist" has earned a pejorative connotation, particularly in our LDS setting, because of factual and logical fallacies employed by so many LDS apologists, as well as by their critics. However, in the abstract, the term itself is merely descriptive. Google uses this Oxford definition: "a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial." There's nothing wrong with being an apologist, but an apologist can make either good or bad arguments. 

Most apologists on all sides of the issues are very nice, sincere, thoughtful people. Those I know personally are great people whom I like and respect. I assume those I don't know personally are the same. For me, none of these discussions about Church history, textual interpretation, etc. are personal in the least. I expect people to disagree about all sorts of things and it has no bearing on friendship, cordiality, respect, etc. But I recognize that for some people, these debates are emotional, not intellectual. Their egos (and possibly their careers) are directly tied to the success of their theories. Their investment in their theories affects their rationality and objectivity. I see this among both faithful and critical apologists.

As we'll see below, there is an extreme version of apologetics referred to as "polemics." A polemicist focuses on attacking his/her opponents rather than defending a point of view. The more an apologist becomes a polemicist, the worse the ensuing arguments become, to the point where they are counterproductive.

Naturally, both faithful and critical apologists make good and bad arguments. One way to distinguish good from bad is whether you agree or disagree with a particular argument, but that's a "lazy learner" approach. It's mere bias confirmation, often without stating the underlying bias. 

Bad apologetic arguments are nevertheless highly persuasive if they confirm your bias. This is the problem we see in much of apologetics from both LDS supporters and critics. The debate has devolved into tribalism, an "us vs. them" approach that has little chance of persuading or even improving understanding.

Another (more productive) way is to assess the validity of the argument in terms of fact and logic (reasoning). Usually we find a mixture of solid arguments with factual and logical fallacies. A good example is the mixture we see in the response to the CES Letter that we discussed last week here: 

In my view, much of the response was counterproductive (from the persepctive of believers) because it's easy to see that, in this case, CES Letter was more factually accurate (and hence more persuasive) in specific instances. The faithful argument would be much stronger if they weren't constantly trying to justify M2C as they did in that response.


Factual fallacies are simply errors about facts, whether intentional or not. They include misquoting, taking facts out of context, omitting facts that contradict one's argument, etc. These are relatively easy to detect and correct, and apologists should embrace correction, regardless of how it affects their argument. An apologist who persists with a factual fallacy should be challenged directly. A polemicist resists correction. 

Logical fallacies are thinking errors. There are lots of lists of logical fallacies, such as this one:

You can assess apologist arguments, whether pro or con regarding a particular issue, by going through the checklist of logical fallacies. 

One common fallacy that sort of blends logical with factual fallacies is the straw man fallacy: A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person’s argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.

The worst fallacy, probably, is the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem means “against the man,” and this type of fallacy is sometimes called name calling or the personal attack fallacy. This type of fallacy occurs when someone attacks the person instead of attacking his or her argument.


The ad hominem fallacy is the principal rhetorical tool of a polemicist. Polemicists who resort to ad hominem attacks are admitting that their arguments cannot survive scrutiny.

Lately, we have an LDS polemicist who not only relies on ad hominem attacks, but his very brand is ad hominem. Even better, he is so unsure of (or embarrassed by) his attacks that he remains anonymous.

I should say, tries to remain anonymous.

This doesn't make him (or her or them) a bad person. Undoubtedly this is a very nice guy who is just insecure and emotionally involved, whose ego and worldview is threatened by even faithful teachings that he has not been aware of before. His work is full of factual and logical fallacies that are easy to observe. It's pathetic, really, but we can't fault the poor guy for trying. 

But we can fault the well-known polemicist who promotes his "anonymous" alter ego.

Obviously, I'm not going to name names or provide links. This specific individual (or group) is not the point. Even if one person decided to desist with the polemical ad hominem attacks, it wouldn't matter because the M2C/SITH citation cartel has plenty of such people who write anonymously, popping up in various fronts of the Potemkin village they inhabit. 

You can look at and see that their authors are almost completely anonymous (like the 1842 Times and Seasons that are the foundation for M2C in the first place).

All I'll do here is provide a graphic that some readers will understand and a passage from a well-known book on Church history in which the author reviews the history of the problem with LDS apologetics that is ongoing (even though this book was published in 1998). Isn't it astonishing that 23 years later, the same people are still doing the same things, with the same results?

While I completely disagree with the author's interpretation of the facts regarding Church history, I nevertheless agree with his assessment of LDS apologetics.

Not every believer is an apologist, but apologists take special efforts to defend their cherished point of view—whether in religion, science, history, or some other belief/endeavor. It is not an insult to call someone an “apologist” (which I often do), nor is “apologist" an unconditional badge of honor. Like drivers on a highway, some apologists are careful, some are careless, some unintentionally injure the innocent, some are Good Samaritans, and a few are sociopaths. Like drivers, even good apologists make errors in judgment and occasionally violate the rules. The same is true for those who don't think they're apologists. 

In a tradition as old as debate, polemics is an extreme version of apologetics. Defending a point of view becomes less important than attacking one's opponents. Aside from their verbal viciousness, polemicists often resort to any man promote their argument. Polemics intentionally destroys the give-and-take of sincerely respectful disagreement. In the resulting polarization, "all are punish’d.” Moving beyond apologist persuasion, LDS polemicists furiously (and often fraudulently) attack any non-traditional view of Mormonism. They mince words—they mince the truth.

Unofficially connected for years, Brigham Young University in October 1997 announced that FARMS is an official unit of BYU. Daniel C. Peterson, current chairman of FARMS, expressed his first concern about official BYU affiliation: "FARMS has often had a polemical edge and we are curious to see how or whether that will be accommodated," he said. "The minute I write something offensive, we'll see if I get a call."

Polemical tactics have been fundamental to the self-definition of FARMS. After six years as book review editor for FARMS, Peterson acknowledged that LDS church members “on our side” have asked “on a number of occasions” why “ do you have to be so polemical, so argumentative?” He responded: "We did not pick this fight with the Church's critics, but we will not withdraw from it. I can only regret that some may think less of us for that fact.” Then as a religious echo of political McCarthyism's innuendos about its critics, Peterson indicated that Mormons “on our side" should be careful about criticizing FARMS: “Certain of our critics have emphasized our alleged 'nastiness,' I am convinced, as a way of distracting attention from our evidence and arguments.” In the previous issue, Peterson had also written a thirty-eight-page defense of the periodical's use of "insults” and “ad hominem (i.e., ‘against the man')” statements about authors whose books were being reviewed by FARMS. Peterson even boasted that some FARMS writers were born with the nastiness gene."

I realize that by criticizing LDS polemicists, I will be accused of engaging in polemics. This circular trap is inevitable because polemicists alternate between attacking their opponents and claiming victimization by their opponents. I have three responses to the above criticism. First, I have allowed my polemical critics to have their decade, not just their day. Second, I believe this eleventh-anniversary edition responds to these LDS polemicists with greater honesty and civility than they have given me. Third, I avoid what FARMS reviewer William J. Hamblin recently described as "whining about" the polemical “tone” of FARMS reviews. He said the real question was "whose arguments are superior?”—a self-description of polemics as personal competition. While I have tried to avoid engaging in polemics, this study does note instances where polemical writings and arguments have been misleading, distorted, or dishonest. “Polemicist” is a dishonorable vocation, and I use the term only where I believe it applies.

On the other hand, many LDS apologists and defenders avoid polemics, and simply limit research/inquiry within the boundaries of officially approved history. As a consequence, church leaders and well-intentioned apologists often avoid acknowledging the existence of evidence that moves even one step beyond the approved boundary. Because of these various cross-currents, most Mormons now find it easier to suppress their curiosity about the unapproved past.

As a historian of the Mormon past, I have never accepted those limits on inquiry or expression. I also decline to conceal uncomfortable evidence directly relevant to topics being discussed. Nor do I feel obligated to accommodate the rational limits of secular humanists. I go wherever the evidence seems to lead and present it in the best way I can. I've tried to be faithful to evidence and faithful to faith. Within those ground rules, I've always seen myself as a Mormon apologist."

The end

Thursday, September 9, 2021

No map is better than the wrong map

This wisdom borrowed from another context should be adopted by BYU and CES:

"No map is better than the wrong map" - Nassim Taleb 

Instead, the M2C citation cartel has managed to enforce their M2C interpretation of the text as the only allowable interpretation. 

By any reasonable academic standard, a serious scholar would acknowledge multiple working hypotheses. But the M2C citation cartel refuses to do so. 

Latter-day Saints would be far better informed with no map than with a map that intentionally defies and repudiates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.


Here's some history.

Several years ago, BYU administration told the faculty to stop teaching M2C. The usual suspects objected. William Hamblin, in particular, wrote an infamous blog post criticizing the new direction.

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

I maintain that numerous policies adopted by a wide range of BYU administrators over the past thirty years have had the effect—intended or unintended—of destroying ancient Book of Mormon studies as a fledgling discipline. 

You can read his post with my comments here:

Not to be deterred, the M2C citation cartel found a work-around. 

They used the M2C interpretation of the text (with Cumorah far, far from New York) to develop a fantasy map that imprinted the M2C interpretation on the minds of all their students. 

And they're still using it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Skousen on witnesses, part 4, and confidence traps

The final part of my 4-part analysis of Royal Skousen's manuscript on the witnesses of the Book of Mormon is available here:

Subscribers to have access to the complete analysis as one document.


People often wonder how experts can be so completely wrong. Doesn't their expertise enable them to correct errors?

Not when they're subject to the confidence trap, as I'll discuss below.


It's difficult to think of an issue more fundamental than the translation of the Book of Mormon--the "keystone of our religion." Nonbelievers have known all along that the credibility of the Restoration hinges on the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

This is why SITH (the stone-in-the-hat) narrative is so effective at undermining faith. Those who embrace SITH will, sooner or later, reach the same conclusion that Royal Skousen reached after he examined the statements of the witnesses.

“Joseph Smith’s claim that he used the Urim and Thummim is only partially true; and Oliver Cowdery’s statements that Joseph used the original instrument while he, Oliver, was the scribe appear to be intentionally misleading.”

Contrary to the SITH sayers, I think the historical evidence, when considered as a whole and in context, corroborates what Joseph and Oliver claimed. Their statements are neither “only partially true” nor “intentionally misleading.” They were forthright and accurate.

Skousen concludes otherwise because he manipulated the evidence to support his theory that Joseph didn’t really translate anything but instead merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH). In the process, he omitted relevant evidence, applied inconsistent burdens of proof depending on whether a statement supported or contradicted SITH, and refused to consider alternative interpretations of the evidence. 


I realize that members of the M2C/SITH citation cartel are as attached to SITH as they are to M2C. It's typical of them to combine excellent research about facts (as Brother Skousen does better than anyone) with academic theories that contradict the teachings of the prophets (as Brother Skousen expressly admits here). As a charter member of the M2C/SITH citation cartel, we would expect the Interpreter to publish Brother Skousen's material.  

After all, it was the Interpreter's predecessor, FARMS (with its Mayan logo) and BYU Studies who have been publishing Skousen's books. I've pointed out before that on page 6 of his Part Five: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, Brother Skousen wrote:

Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith.

Because these are expensive books that not a lot of people own, skeptics might think I'm not accurately quoting the book, so here's a photo. (click to enlarge)

That's the line of thinking--the bias--that led directly to the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver misled us about the translation. 

Fortunately, more and more Latter-day Saints are catching on to the shenanigans of these scholars. While I respect and personally like the scholars, and I admire their factual research, I don't think they are flawless. No one is perfect, as they say. 

It's not uncommon for a brilliant, educated person to make both important discoveries and major errors.

In fact, experts are prone to making big mistakes because of the confidence trap, as explained here.

One of the things that makes experts so convincing is that they exude confidence.  They can talk calmly and knowledgeably about a subject, make reference to relevant facts and build a compelling logic for their case.  A good expert is always impressive, but still usually wrong....

pundits who specialized in a particular field tended to perform worse than those whose knowledge was more general....

This is so counterintuitive that it hardly seems possible, but it’s true.  The reason lies in the confidence of the predictions.  Specialists, with their deep knowledge of a particular subject, tend to not to incorporate information outside their domain, which makes for a cleaner, more definitive story line.

That's what we are seeing with M2C and SITH. 


Notice the Mayan logo on the title page below. M2C and SITH, all over again.