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.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Legacy post from 8 years ago: Simplicity

On May 26, 2016, I posted this observation about Simplicity. It remains the most popular post on this blog, so I'm reposting it here with some updates.


William of  Ockham
The simplest explanation is usually the best, a principle often described as Occam's razor. "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

On the topic of Book of Mormon geography, which setting requires the fewest assumptions?

Which explanation is the simplest?

A. The North American setting has one assumption.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew that the Hill Cumorah/Ramah in New York was the place where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations were destroyed. 

Everything directly attributable to them is consistent with that setting. Contrary ideas are not directly attributable to them; therefore, these contrary ideas were produced by other people who didn't know what Joseph and Oliver knew.

Extrinsic evidence corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. Very simple and clear. This assumption explains all the historical references and the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

B. The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), which teaches that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah/Ramah because the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico, relies on a series of assumptions.

1. Joseph Smith didn't know where Book of Mormon events took place. 

2. Lucy Mack Smith was wrong when she said it was Moroni who identified the hill as Cumorah the first time he met Joseph in September 1823.

3. Lucy Mack Smith was wrong when she said Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah in early 1827 and she and her husband knew what he meant.

4. Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery were wrong when, during their mission to the Lamanites in 1830, they taught that Moroni referred to the hill as Cumorah anciently.

5. Some unknown person) at some unspecified date started a folk tradition that Cumorah was in New York, based on an incorrect assumption.

6. Joseph misled his wife Emma when he wrote to her about crossing the plains of the Nephites after he'd crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

7. Oliver Cowdery misled the Church (and the world) when, as Assistant President of the Church, he declared in Letter VII (1835) that it's a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. IOW, he falsely memorialized the incorrect folk tradition.

8. Joseph, for unexplained reasons, passively adopted Oliver's speculation, had it copied into his own journal, and had it widely published.

9. Joseph himself misled the Church and the world in D&C 128:20 when he wrote "Glad tidings from Cumorah! ... The book to be revealed..." indicating he learned about Cumorah before he got the plates, just as Lucy Mack Smith described.

10. Joseph, who wrote very little himself, nevertheless wrote a series of  articles in the Times and Seasons about Central America that he left anonymous for unknown reasons.

11. David Whitmer, late in life, conflated his own specific memory of the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" with Oliver's folk tradition.

12. Joseph's successors in Church leadership (prophets, seers and revelators) who reiterated what Joseph and Oliver taught were all expressing their own private opinions and they were wrong, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

13. Extrinsic evidence that corroborates the New York Cumorah is invalid because Cumorah/Ramah cannot be in New York, but various aspects of ancient Mesoamerican culture "correspond" to M2C interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon and therefore corroborate M2C (although no Mesoamerican scholars outside the M2C bubble agree, and most observers note that the "correspondences" cited by M2C scholars are common to most ancient societies around the world).

14. Latter-day Saints who still accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah are ignorant, gullible, politically driven, and anti-science. Their views should be misrepresented, censored, ridiculed and opposed whenever and wherever possible.

Which set of assumptions makes the most sense to you?


Here are some relevant quotations about simplicity.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein

To which Groucho Marx replied:

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
― Groucho Marx

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
― Isaac Newton

“Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them.”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

“People who pride themselves on their "complexity" and deride others for being "simplistic" should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”
― Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays

“..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. and when the answer is simple, then God is answering.”
― Albert Einstein

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