Monday, October 31, 2016

sowing confusion

A book titled Underwater Forensic Investigation makes this point:

"Another old defense axiom is that a good defense lawyer can make the simplest of cases complex. Many cases today involve forensic evidence and complicated expert testimony. The more difficult the testimony is to understand, the more room the defense has to sow confusion.

"Trials in which DNA testimony occurs are so convoluted that even people who understand DNA typing often lost track of the testimony and its significance... the defense attorney, in cross-examination, might bring up allele frequency, population statistics, laboratory procedures, and other matters of little relevance to the question of who left blood at the crime scene.

"This approach uses two defense principles: impeach the evidence and confuse the jury.

"Without actually impeaching the evidence, the defense attorney so obscures the forensic procedures that a jury member might mistake confusion for reasonable doubt."

As a former defense lawyer myself, I recognize these tactics on display in the discussions about Book of Mormon geography. To the extent the Book of Mormon is on trial--and it is, always and everywhere--critics must either 1) impeach the evidence or 2) confuse the jury (in this case, every individual who encounters the Book of Mormon).

It may seem somewhat shocking to realize that some LDS defenders of the Book of Mormon use these same tactics to promote the Mesoamerican and other non-New York Cumorah theories.

But it's not shocking when we realize the tactics are the inevitable result of Mesomania.

In this post, I'm not going to address the impeachment tactic. I'll save that for another day. Instead, I'll focus on the tactic of sowing confusion.

In my Mesomania book, I make these observations:

1. Neither Joseph nor any of his associates ever questioned the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah.

2. Everything that can be directly attributed to Joseph Smith puts the Book of Mormon in North America, specifically within the territory of the United States circa 1842.

3. Not a single document that connects the Book of Mormon with Central or South America can be directly linked to Joseph Smith.

While no accounts written by humans are perfect, proponents of the non-New York Cumorahs have managed to sow confusion to make the Church history look more complex and confusing than it really is. In Mesomania, I go through the usual suspects (e.g., the Bernhisel letter, the Times and Seasons articles), so I won't rehash those here.

This is all straightforward and clear, but some LDS scholars and educators have gone to great lengths to sow confusion about these statements.

Their approach consists of four main elements. First, they attribute to Joseph Smith statements he didn't make. Second, they assume that statements by others were either approved by Joseph or reflected his thoughts. Third, they reject any statements by Joseph and Oliver (e.g., Letter VII) that contradict their particular theories as the product of speculation, uncertainty, or deception. (this tactic is essentially impeachment, so I don't discuss it here.). Fourth, they insist on their own subjective interpretation of the text.

These elements combine to facilitate tremendous confusion.

It is particularly interesting that Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the two-Cumorahs theory would cause the Saints to become confused. Without alluding to the standard defense lawyer tactic, President Smith zeroed in on exactly what is going on here.

For now, I'll give just two examples.

"Internal map" approach. The so-called "consensus" approach to Book of Mormon geography among LDS scholars and educators maintains that we should look to the text, not to any statements by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or any other prophets and apostles.

Does this appear reasonable at first glance?


The rationale is that the text is the closest thing we have to the voice of God that we can rely on; statements by Joseph are unreliable because Joseph "changed his mind" over time and/or was speculating, and/or never claimed revelation on this specific point; Oliver Cowdery was also speculating and unreliable and didn't record revelation on this point; both of them were wrong anyway as a matter of fact; and subsequent prophets and apostles are just giving their opinions and are wrong because the New York setting doesn't fit the geographic criteria established by the scholars and educators.

With this explanations before us, we can spot the fallacies of the original premise, but here is the critical point.

Most believers accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an actual history. Most also accept that Joseph's "translation" consisted of his reading the words that appeared on a seer stone; that is, he was not the actual translator in the normal sense of the term because he didn't understand the language in which the plates were written. Someone else put it into English so he could read the words on the stone. Therefore, we accept the text as scripture.

Ultimately, the reason we accept it as scripture is because of what Joseph and Oliver told us about its provenance. People who don't believe them don't accept the text as scripture.

This is why it is so effective to sow confusion about Joseph and Oliver, whether you reject what they said about the Book of Mormon itself, or just what they said about where it occurred.

What the LDS scholars and educators don't tell us is what they really mean: the New York setting doesn't fit their own models of Book of Mormon geography, so they insist on this "internal map"analysis that rejects the New York Cumorah and allows them to "interpret" the text however they like.

[And they don't tell us that the text fits very nicely in a North American setting.]

The "internal map" approach is inherently problematic because it is mostly subjective. That's why we have so many different models based on this approach. No two people can independently come up with the same map just by reading the text because the text is so vague.

Think about that premise a moment. Does it make any sense? Try testing it by working out Biblical geography just from the text, without reference to a map (either a physical one or the one imprinted on your memory).

The fallacy of the "internal map" approach was demonstrated recently when we had a modern equivalent to the Council of Nicea. (I wrote about this Council of Springville here.) A group of LDS scholars, all of whom apparently reject what every modern prophet and apostle has said about Cumorah, assembled in a conclave to interpret the "difficult passages" in the text of the Book of Mormon.

And even then, they couldn't reach agreement on every point.

All because they reject the pin in the map that Joseph and Oliver gave us.

Instead, thanks to Mesomania, they can only see Mesomania in the text, so they subjectively interpret the text to match the mental and graphic maps they've created over the years. To them, there is no "head of Sidon," for example; it's the "headwaters of Sidon." It's a "narrow strip of mountainous wilderness," with the term mountainous supplied by their own imagination. I've discussed the Sorenson translation of the text many times, but the point is, when you're concocting an "internal map" of the Book of Mormon, especially by committee, you're imposing your own ideas onto the text by definition.  You're interpreting what you think the terms mean.

In a real sense, this is akin to traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible. There are hundreds of variations of Christian doctrine, all quoting the same Bible, but each with a different interpretation of a particular passage or term.

One purpose of the Book of Mormon was to eliminate the confusion that continues to characterize Christianity.

It's deeply ironic that now the Book of Mormon is being used not to eliminate confusion, but to cause it in the minds of the Latter-day Saints.

The way to avoid this defense lawyer tactic is to heed the important pin in the map of Cumorah in New York. That one pin eliminates most of the confusion that continues to characterize what LDS scholars and educators are teaching.

Confusion about statements.

Second, an awesome researcher I won't name here* explained the consensus approach. Realize this is a Mesoamerican proponent, so he's explaining this from a friendly perspective. That's what makes this so telling when you look at it from a non-Mesoamerican perspective.

"Many will sincerely ask, as some have before, How can we ignore the fact that "men [such] as. Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah [in addition to other matters concerning Book of Mormon geography], and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact"?

[Notice the rhetorical tricks here. First, it's a partial quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith, who actually wrote "It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery..." Here, the researcher deletes the point about reasonable persons to ask how we can ignore these facts. The "reasonable person" terminology invokes a legal standard. Deleting this phrase is much easier than addressing it. Second, the researcher inserts the clause "in addition to other matters concerning Book of Mormon geography," thereby shifting the focus away from Cumorah. 

President Smith identified specific individuals, but it was not only "men such as" those identified and "many others," but every contemporary of Joseph Smith who accepted the New York setting for Cumorah. It was a unanimous position until after Joseph and all of his contemporaries died off.

The next section of the analysis shows how confusion is sown.]

"The problem with the approach of those who pose such a question is that they are choosing to be selective in regards to the statements which they quote.

[Sowing confusion here.]

In other words, if this is the position that people take, then they will invariably be forced to choose which authoritative statements about Book of Mormon geography they want to believe and which they want to ignore.

[Thus begins the classic framing of the issue that sows confusion by the techniques I listed above: 

First, they attribute to Joseph Smith statements he didn't make. 

Second, they assume that statements by others were either approved by Joseph or reflected his thoughts. 

Third, they reject any statements by Joseph and Oliver (e.g., Letter VII) that contradict their particular theories as the product of speculation, uncertainty, or deception.

Watch how this develops. He is going to conflate the Cumorah issue with the Hemispheric model to sow confusion about Cumorah.]

For example, can we ignore the statements as early as 1830 that have Lehi landing in Chili" and "in South America"? [These can't be directly linked to Joseph Smith]

Can we ignore the Hemispheric Theory that had its beginnings at least by 1830 with Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt (and possibly Joseph Smith)?

[Note the use of possibly here. And so far, no one is questioning Cumorah in New York.]

Can we ignore the details of the Hemispheric Theory supplied as footnotes in the Book of Mormon itself by Orson Pratt (and approved by the First Presidency)?

[This point refutes the claim that John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff wrote, or knew Joseph wrote, the Times and Seasons articles that contradicted the footnotes on the location of Zarahemla, but these same footnotes declared unequivocally that Cumorah was in New York.]

Can we ignore the 1838 identification of the city of Manti by Joseph Smith in northern Missouri?

[This identification was attributed to Joseph, and is consistent with everything else he actually said/wrote, but we can't definitely link it to Joseph based on the historical evidence we have so far. But why would we want to ignore it?]

If we can't, then we are forced to ignore the fact that in the Book of Mormon text itself the city of Manti is located in the land southward,

[This is pure Mesomania; he is assuming that northern Missouri cannot be the land southward because he's envisioning Central America, but Missouri as the land southward fits fine in the North American setting.]

we are forced to ignore the 1842 editorial by Joseph Smith in the Times and Seasons

[Here is a false attribution, which has been a major source of confusion for a long, long time]

to the effect that Zarahemla was near Quirigua, Guatemala, and we are forced to ignore the actions of Joseph F. Smith when he declined to officially approve of a map showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it.

[A great example of sowing confusion by conflating the issues. Joseph F. Smith's statement does not dispute the New York setting for Cumorah.]

We are also forced to ignore the 1929 statement by President Ivins that "There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography] So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth."

[Again, the New York Cumorah does not "settle" the question of Book of Mormon geography; it is merely a starting point. So President Ivins is correct, but he doesn't cast doubt or confusion about Cumorah.]

And we are forced to ignore the 1993 letter coming from the office of the First Presidency stating that "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested."

[I am highly suspicious of this one. First, I haven't been able to track down any such First Presidency letter. The Cumorah article in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism uses this exact language here, but without quotation marks or citation. That article was written by David A. Palmer, who sowed a tremendous amount of confusion with his 1981 book, In Search of Cumorah, which I've addressed before on my blog and youtube channel. Note that Palmer cites himself in this article. 

FairMormon and Mesoamerican proponents claim this message was contained in a "fax from the Office of the First Presidency to FARMS, April 12, 1993." But compare the fax to Palmer's article:

Fax: While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.

Palmer: Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.

The "fax" is just a rewording of Palmer's article, which predates the fax. 

Here is what the Palmer article looks like when it is edited to become the fax from the First Presidency. You just have to move the first sentence to the middle, change and delete a few words, and voila, an important announcement from the First Presidency that refutes Letter VII and endorses the two-Cumorah theory:

So while it's possible the First Presidency reworded Palmer's article and faxed it to FARMS, does anyone really believe that? 

By citing the "office of the First Presidency," FairMormon implies that Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson reworded Palmer's article and faxed it to FARMS. 

In fact, the fax was sent by Carla Ogden, then Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency. She apparently reworded the article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

I've been criticized by some LDS scholars for using the term "citation cartel," but there's no better example than this. First, David Palmer writes his book justifying the two-Cumorahs theory. Then he gets the job to write the Cumorah entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in which he cites himself as authority. Then a staffer from Church headquarters rewords the article and faxes it to FARMS. FARMS then uses it to sow doubt about Cumorah, omitting the inconvenient fact that it was their own guy, David Palmer, who wrote the material. It's a wonder to behold, for sure, but this is what passes for LDS scholarship about Mesoamerica.

You can read this entire episode here

Beyond the obvious problem of the First Presidency communicating an important doctrinal position by fax to a single organization, think of the implications of this statement. FARMS, FairMormon, and the rest of the citation cartel are actually claiming that the First Presidency has said that "the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah." This would mean the First Presidency has evaluated this subject in far more detail than they've ever explained, and reached the conclusion that Joseph, Oliver, and all previous prophets and apostles were wrong.

Maybe we should get some clarification on that. If someone does get some clarification, we can address the issue more specifically.]

Relying on selective authoritative statements from the past is a very weak position if it represents one's only argument for Book of Mormon geography.

[This is a straw man argument. No one relies solely on "selective authoritative statements from the past."]

While one certainly has the liberty to believe whatever he chooses in view of the fact that Church officials have approved no official map of Book of Mormon geography, those who hold too closely to tradition and ignore the information at hand put themselves in jeopardy.

[Of course, this is exactly my point about Mesomania.]

In 1844 Joseph Smith said the following: "I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions." (Joseph Smith, D. H. C. 6:183-185, January 20, 1844)

[This is the prime reason to stick with what Joseph actually said and wrote, instead of conflating those statements with those of his contemporaries. But on one point, they were all consistent: Cumorah is in New York.]

While equating Book of Mormon geography with the things of God" is an individual matter, I still have to believe that those who hold too tightly to traditional statements about Book of Mormon geography will either shut their eyes to new information or put themselves in jeopardy of "flying to pieces" when what is being substantiated, quoted and taught with more frequency at the present time is overwhelmingly contrary to their traditions.

[This tautological rhetoric obfuscates the question of what is tradition and what is information. By definition, anyone who holds "too tightly to traditional statements" will "shut their eyes to new information." Mesoamerican proponents have developed their own traditions, replete with their own private interpretations of the text, that they adhere to at all costs. By and large, they shut their eyes to new information about Church history, as well as the sciences. In this article alone, the author has attempted to confuse the issues by conflating the Cumorah question with the various statements about the hemispheric model, and has cited what I consider a phony fax to cause further confusion.

If you read the publications of the Mesoamerican proponents, you will see this same effort to cause confusion in a variety of forms. I chose this one as an illustration because it is relatively concise, and because it epitomizes what you'll read elsewhere.]

(I did address the question of "Why not?" on another blog, here.)


*I didn't name the researcher because his identity is irrelevant to the issue.

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