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RaymondSwenson • 2 years ago

The critics who like to talk about large numbers of youth falling away do so to argue that we would keep those wayward youth if we would adjust our doctrines to look more like the modern world. But the various scientific surveys, like the one analyzed in the cited blog post, show that the churches that most accommodate modern social trends have the worst record in retaining youth loyalty. It is the ways we are distinctive that make us more powerful in winning youth loyalty. Given the powerful peer pressure of modern society, this may be the best that can be done. In any case, we need to avoid just giving up and joining the secular crowd.

Michael • 2 years ago

Hardly a statistical or rigorous study, but earlier this year a couple of friends of mine and I looked back at our ward during our time as youth. All of that youth group is now 25-31 years old... mostly past college years. We counted at least 58 active or at least semi-active youth at that time in 2002. In 2014, we could identify at least 53% that were still active with 41% that we could identify as no longer attending and and the rest that we were not sure about either way.

Of those no longer active, a majority were only somewhat active in high school with many coming from part member or less active families.
Of those currently active, a majority spent at least some time at BYU. (I have not.)
There is also a similar divide on marriage... majority active are now married and majority inactive are not.

But this is just a snapshot of one ward.

Yes, we are losing youth, but I am not sure if it is any worse than it has ever been... certainly more public though.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Thanks for the link to forrspollfira, Dan. Fascinating data there.

As for what you could do to help staunch the flow, how about reconsidering the Mesoamerican approach to BoM geography, which, as many of today's youth realize thanks to the Internet, requires a massive suspension of disbelief to accept (e.g., tapirs as horses? south is west?). Instead, refocus on the North American setting, which has been reactivating long-lost members and retaining others, because it is consistent with what Joseph wrote, the archaeology, the D&C, and the BoM text itself.

DanielPeterson • 2 years ago

I'm unaware of anything to suggest that youth are leaving the Church in response to proposed Mesoamerican geographical models for the Book of Mormon.

In any event, I hold to a Mesoamerican model because I think it's the best one available. Unfortunately I don't find "heartland" arguments convincing.

Here's an "Interpreter" article, in the meantime, that might be of interest:


kgbudge • 2 years ago

Dan, I suspect projection. MKeys seems so invested in the Heartland theory that I have to wonder if he's built his entire edifice of belief on it. In other words, if something came out that absolutely disproved the theory, or if the Church officially rejected it, would MKeys accept that and move on, or would he abandon the Church?

For my part, while I consider the Mesoamerican theory a better fit, if something came out that absolutely disproved the Mesoamerican theory, then yes: I could shrug and move on, continuing to believe in the Restoration, because my edifice of belief is build on a lot more than archaeology.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Hi Dan. Good to see you here. Maybe it's because you've battled in the area of apologetics so long that you think the questions are answered, and I'm sure they are to your satisfaction because, as you say, the spiritual witness is more important. But it doesn't take much effort to find that the historicity of the BoM is a central issue for less committed members and investigators both.

After all your battles, I'm surprised you are unaware of youth leaving the Church over the Mesoamerican theory. Here are some links to help you become less unaware of the problem, or as Southerton put it, "The emergence of Rodney Meldrum was inevitable given the twisted apologetics one has to swallow with the Mesoamerican geography." (http://idratherbetellingsto... "Some apologists say the Nephites were a small tribe in a larger continent where a lot of other people lived, so it’s difficult to find a record of them, but the Book of Mormon makes a big point about the promised land being a choice land where no one is allowed to dwell unless they are brought by the hand of the Lord." and http://www.exmormonforums.c... and many more.)

In your comments on the Interpreter article, you wrote: "I don’t sense much animosity among Mesoamericanists to Heartlanders." Have you read the comments on this very blog? I've been accused of all kinds of things just because I dared raise a handful of the many problems with the Mesoamerican theory. I could show you plenty of animosity on the blogs if you want to see it. It is deplorable that anyone would attack you, of course; I think attacks from any side are a reflection more on the attacker than on the underlying material. IOW, don't reject evidence just because some proponents are, shall we say, jerks. I certainly have not rejected the Mesoamerican theory because of the conduct of people on this blog and others; I'm purely interested in the facts. I think you are, too.

Still, when you trivialize the issue by referring to the "precise GPS coordinates of the Jaredite city of Lib," you are pursuing the same "all is well in Zion" approach that, in my experience, is causing a significant problem for retention and conversion.

As for the Interpreter article, I have read it. Here is my brief review:

Mark Alan Wright's article in the Interpreter 13: 111-129, is a useful contribution to the dialog. He proposes that the BoM accounts of expeditions to the north (the "hinterlands") took those groups out of the BoM narrative. He summarizes his thesis here: "I believe that every statement made by Joseph Smith or his contemporaries concerning Nephites or Lamanites in North America can be accommodated by the Hinterland Hypothesis."

However, there are some conceptual flaws that, to me, undermine the thesis.

Wright begins by citing John E. Page for authority on the Mesoamerican theory. What he doesn't mention is that by 1848, the date of the quotation, Page had been excommunicated after a series of offenses. True, Page had been an apostle under Joseph Smith, but he also became President of the Quorum of the Twelve under James J. Strang, whom he encouraged LDS to follow. He thought Joseph and Brigham were both fallen prophets. I have difficulty accepting his comments, especially his post-apostasy comments, as support. Why does Wright think Page knew more than Joseph did? In my readings and discussions, most Mesoamerican theorists agree with the President of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Doug Christensen, who thinks Joseph Smith didn't know all that much about the Book of Mormon and was guessing whenever he made comments about geography.

Predictably, Wright quotes the unsigned 15 July 1842 T&S excerpt. But he omits any reference to the 1 Jan 1842 T&S which, right after publishing Section 1 of the D&C, gives a far more extensive and detailed comparison of Book of Mormon passages with specific sites in Ohio. This T&S article concludes thus: "This account also agrees with the Indian traditions which I have quoted in a former part of this work. It says, that their forefathers were once in possession of a sacred Book, which was handed down from generation to generation, and at last hid in the earth; but these oracles are to be restored to them again and then they shall triumph over their enemies and regain their ancient country."

After comparing just these two pieces from the T&S, I ask, along with Wright, "So how can we suggest that the core area of the Book of Mormon is in Mesoamerica and relegate North America to the periphery?" When viewed as a whole, T&S provides far more support for the North American theory than for the Mesoamerican theory. What's especially odd is that the only--the only--support for the Mesoamerican theory is those brief T&S excerpts; everything else Joseph said places the BoM in North America.

It's very bizarre that Wright dismisses the Zelph account because neither Zelph nor Onandagus was named in the Book of Mormon, when he just emphasized that most BoM events weren't included in Mormon's compilation. As Wright notes, Joseph wrote in his own hand, the day after the Zelph incident, that he was "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon." But he would have the reader believe that Zelph was unrelated to the history of the Book of Mormon Joseph was recounting the very next day!

This returns us to the notion that Joseph Smith knew so little about the Book of Mormon that he must have merely guessed about Zelph and, while he thought he was walking over the plains of the Nephites, recounting their history, he was unaware that the actual plains of the Nephites (where the history he recounted took place) were several thousand miles south of his location.

Again, the Mesoamerican theory requires that Joseph knew little about the Book of Mormon.

There are other problems, such as Wright's assertion that "When the Book of Mormon came forth in 1830, there were only 24 states." While technically true as far as states go, the Louisiana purchase (U.S. territory) took place in 1803 and included the Midwest not already included in the 24 states (including the areas in Missouri and Iowa relevant to the discussion).

Here is Wright's conclusion: "I would like to restate that my hope with this paper was that I might be able to reconcile the statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning Nephites and Lamanites with what the best archaeological evidence tells us about where the Book of Mormon likely took place."

A more objective evaluation would conclude that Wright spelled out the basic arguments for dismissing whatever Joseph said that contradicted the speculation in the June T&S articles, but of course he said nothing about archaeological evidence. If he had, he would have had to address the correlations between ancient North American archaeology (e.g., the Jan T&S), which fit the BoM much better than the completely alien culture in Mesoamerica.

Regardless of the outcome of these posts, thanks again for a thoughtful original post to start the discussion.

Guest • 2 years ago

I have no idea how you can draw the conclusion that:

Instead, refocus on the North American setting, which has been
reactivating long-lost members and retaining others, because it is
consistent with what Joseph wrote, the archaeology, the D&C, and the
BoM text itself.

I've read books on the North American setting, and none of them appeal to me as substantial enough to match the facts. For example:

Mesoamerica is one of only five regions of the world where writing was independently developed. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik...

That, in itself, should ring a very loud bell.

MKeys • 2 years ago

? The fact that Mesoamericans developed their own writing is an argument against the BoM events occurring there! Throughout the BoM, the authors emphasized they used old world writing (Hebrew and Egyptian). Nowhere did they state or imply that they adopted the writing of indigenous people. When the Jaredite plates were found, King Limhi asked Ammon if he could interpret languages. He couldn't. The King asked if anyone could interpret languages, and Ammon said only a seer could. The Mesoamerican theory requires that the Nephites live among people who wrote an entirely different language, yet the BoM makes plain that the ability to translate was so unheard of that only a seer could accomplish it.
We should be looking for a society in which writing was unusual and rare (taught by Kings to their sons as in Mosiah 1), with records kept on sacred metal plates that had to be constantly protected against destruction by enemies.
By contrast, in Mesoamerica we have abundant writings (despite the efforts of the Spanish to destroy them all) in an indigenous language unrelated to Hebrew or Egyptian. It's difficult to conceive of a society that fits the Book of Mormon less than Mesoamerican society in this respect.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

So, the reason we're losing many of our youth is because the Church hasn't officially endorsed Meldrum's ideas about Book of Mormon lands, and is allowing Mormon scholars to present the case for Mesoamerica instead?

MKeys • 2 years ago

It's an odd assertion that the Church is "allowing Mormon scholars to present the case for Mesoamerica." Are you suggesting the Church censor particular scholars? The Mesoamerican scholarship has been interesting and useful for understanding the anthropology and history of that area. It's just the strained effort to cram the Book of Mormon into those societies that is problematic.
As for the Church's position, take a look at the video the Church released last year titled "Scriptures Legacy" which depicts Christ visiting the Nephites in what is clearly a North American setting.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

"As for the Church's position, take a look at the video the Church
released last year titled "Scriptures Legacy" which depicts Christ
visiting the Nephites in what is clearly a North American setting."

You can't be serious?

I could as sensibly argue that the latest temple film proves the Brethren think the Garden of Eden was located next to the Snake RIver Plain in Idaho. But maybe I shouldn't be giving you ideas.

MKeys • 2 years ago

ha-ha, you're the one who suggested the Church endorses the Mesoamerican theory by "allowing" scholars to present that case. Why are you so intransigent on this issue?

kgbudge • 2 years ago

You think allowing scholars to present their case is the same as endorsing it?

MKeys • 2 years ago

No, but that's what you implied by writing that the Church "allows" them to present their case. The Church has no official position. It's up to us to use our education and reasoning, as well as common sense. Someone who accepts the Book of Mormon and D&C as scripture has difficulty reconciling that with the Mesoamerican theorists who insist the BoM and D&C were "mistaken" in so many areas; i.e., mistranslated plants and animals, cardinal directions, Cumorah, Lamanites, etc.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

No. That is not what I implied. I understand quite well the difference between allowing someone to come to their own conclusions, and endorsing those conclusions.

"Someone who accepts the Book of Mormon and D&C as scripture has difficulty reconciling that with the Mesoamerican theorists..."

Fact not in evidence. I accept both these books and scripture, and have less difficulty reconciling their contents with the Mesoamerican theory than I do with the Heartland theory. Many faithful LDS scholars can say the same thing.

And this, I think, is the real rub. Had Meldrum presented his theory as another competing theory, without trying to claim an inspired imprimatur for it that the Church itself has refusd to give ("The Church has no official position") I'd shrug and say thanks, yes, interesting, but I find the Mesoamerican theory more convincing. But Meldrum has in fact claimed such an imprimatur, without authority, and to me this seems to put him on spiritually shaky ground.

MKeys • 2 years ago

"Facts not in evidence?" Like your caricature of Meldrum's approach?
If Meldrum has claimed an inspired imprimatur, then I'm with you. I don't think it's helpful or necessary to claim an inspired imprimatur on any theory (but you must admit the whole Times and Seasons wordprint analysis is premised exactly on that--seeking an inspired imprimatur on the Mesoamerican theory).
Apparently you're offended by Meldrum's approach, for whatever reason. Why would that dissuade you from looking at the archaeological record itself?
As for the scriptures, the Mesoamerican theory depends on the D&C being incorrect (a modern expansion on a modern record?) when it identifies the North American Indians as Lamanites, the hill in Palmyra as the Hill Cumorah, etc. One can accept the scriptures in a variety of ways, granted. So I'll agree my use of the terms "accepts" and "difficulty reconciling" assumed a more literal approach than the more fluid approach adopted by the Mesoamerican theorists. Not saying one is better or worse, so your point is well taken.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Meldrum's ideas? How about Joseph Smith's ideas? Or the ideas expressed in numerous sections of the D&C? Or the plain archaeological evidence?
As for Mormon scholars and Mesoamerica, few if any youth who read those theories are convinced, at least not once they see how the Mesoamerican theory defies the text of the BoM. BoM historicity is one of the top reasons given by those who leave, which is easy to understand because the Mesoamerican theory is such an easy target for ridicule by the BoM critics.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that the Heartland theory is so much more plausible than the Mesoamerica theory that it would make a significant difference in the retention of our youth.

MKeys • 2 years ago

The Mesoamerican theory undermines faith in the BoM and Joseph Smith because it relies on the theory that Joseph didn't know what he was talking about when he described the Midwest as the plains of the Nephites, sent missionaries to the Lamanites there, identified Zelph's mound, etc. It also requires the Book of Mormon to be mistranslated (horses are actually tapirs, etc.) and requires the Nephites to not understand cardinal directions. It requires that the crime-ridden, impoverished nations of Central America are the "promised land" that would be the New Jerusalem, etc.

Stephen Smoot • 2 years ago

" It requires that the crime-ridden, impoverished nations of Central America are the 'promised land' that would be the New Jerusalem, etc."

Right. Because we both know the only crime-ridden, impoverished nation that qualifies as the promised land is the United States. Because 'Merica!

Seriously, though, Meldrum's heartland theory, including his deceptive presentation on Joseph Smith's views, has been thoroughly dismantled by Matt Roper, Ugo Perego, Greg Smith, Mark Wright, Brant Gardner, and others. You are either unaware of the real arguments being made for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon or are misrepresenting them in a straw man caricature.

More to the point, this talking point by Meldrum (and yourself) that we're losing youth because of disillusionment with the Mesoamerican theory is highly suspect. Go ask any random teenagers or YSA Church members if they can identify the intricacies of the competing theories and see how many of them even know the issues, let alone know enough to eventually be disillusioned, supposedly, when they encounter the counter arguments.

Also, if you want some kind of an indication of where the winds are blowing vis-à-vis the Church's support of Mesoamerica or the "Heartland," I'd invite you to read this essay, which was approved by the First Presidency and Q of 12 before publication. Notice whom the essay cites. Notice whom it doesn't.


MKeys • 2 years ago

Nice to have a discussion on this, but an appeal to authority? Seriously? How about Elder Perry as an authority ("The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon.")?
I've read Roper, Perego, Smith, Wright, Gardner, and "others." For that matter, I studied with Sorenson and reviewed his Ancient American Setting book before it was published. I've visited the sites in Mesoamerica, as well as the Midwest U.S. (and many more around the world, on every continent). While I understand why Roper et al take such a defensive posture (given the deserved ridicule the Mesoamerican theory generates from anti- and former LDS), I can't understand why they are so intent on forcing the square peg of that theory into the round hole described by the BoM.
Speaking of deceptive presentations on Joseph's views, have you read Roper's analysis of Zelph's mound?
This "talking point" is a little personal, actually. If you're interested, I'll send along the link to a blog of a close relative who explained the historicity issue was the reason he lost faith in the BoM. You could only think this is "highly suspect" if you don't read the Internet (or if you only hang out with YSA kids who are still active in Church, which was not what Dan's blog was about). Maybe among that group, you don't find many kids who investigate archaeology, anthropology, history, and BoM truth claims--but that's exactly the point. It's the kids (and investigators) who do actually investigate who have the most problems with the Mesoamerican theory.
I'm not sure why you take a condescending approach here, but you don't have to "invite" me to read the DNA statement. I've read it, and the sources it cites. Do I need to point out that article says nothing about the issue we're discussing?
All I'd hope for out of all of this is a little more open-mindedness and a little more acceptance of what the BoM, D&C, Joseph Smith, and his contemporaries have to say. Instead of Roper's approach of casting doubt on the early brethren and using word counts to guess who wrote three speculative articles in the Times and Seasons, why not examine the actual archaeological discoveries still being made in Ohio, Illinois, and other parts of what Elder Perry called the promised land? Why keep insisting on defending the Mesoamerican theory?

Stephen Smoot • 2 years ago

I'm not going to get into a drawn out discussion over this, since it's distracting to the OP. But I will say one last thing or two.

"Nice to have a discussion on this, but an appeal to authority?"

If by "appeal to authority" you mean I have given examples of qualified experts on the question of Book of Mormon historicity and/or the Mesoamerican theory, then yes.

"I've read Roper, Perego, Smith, Wright, Gardner, and 'others.'"

Well then your grasp of their arguments is very poor, since you've repeatedly set up straw men arguments to knock down when describing the Mesoamerican theory.

"For that matter, I studied with Sorenson and reviewed his Ancient American Setting book before it was published. I've visited the sites in Mesoamerica, as well as the Midwest U.S. (and many more around the world, on every continent)."

That's nice. It's also irrelevant.

"While I understand why Roper et al take such a defensive posture (given the deserved ridicule the Mesoamerican theory generates from anti- and former LDS)"

You're mind reading, and not very well. I know these guys personally and have spoken with them in-depth on this issue. They are not being "defensive" because they're insecure about anti-Mormon criticism. They're defending what they (and I) think is the correct interpretation of the relevant historical data. They're also defending the Mesoamerican model against Heartlanders who misrepresent and distort the arguments for the Mesoamerican model (to say nothing of the historical, genetic, and archaeological evidence).

"You could only think this is "highly suspect" if you don't read the Internet (or if you only hang out with YSA kids who are still active in Church, which was not what Dan's blog was about)."

My friend, I can promise you that I stay current with what's trending on the Internet, especially in ex-Mormon circles. I'm not ignorant of what the issues are.

Yes, people leave over arguments against the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But most of them, I am bold enough to say, do not leave because they have a thorough, well-reasoned, nuanced view of the issues. They do not leave because they "investigate archaeology, anthropology, history, and BoM truth claims." Most of them leave because they're blindsided by the arguments of armchair amateurs like Jeremy Runnells and then don't go any further. Or they do a few Google searches, find the "OMG horses are tapirs? LOL that's dumb. #danpetersonislame" nonsense from ex-Mormon sites, and call it a day.

I have yet to see these people (with a few exceptions) demonstrate that they truly understand the arguments of Sorenson or Gardner or Wright. The very fact that they (and you) keep repeating the "horses aren't tapirs, duh!" mantra proves they don't comprehend the actual arguments. The icing on the cake for me was when I once saw a thread at r/exmormon (or maybe it was Runnells' response to Dan Peterson) complaining that Sorenson's "Mormon's Codex" was too long and too dense and thus dismissed reading it.

Trust me. I know my generation better than you do.

"It's the kids (and investigators) who do actually investigate who have the most problems with the Mesoamerican theory."

Pure rubbish. Of my 20-something YSA friends who have *seriously* studied Book of Mormon historicity (including myself), pretty much all of them accept the Mesoamerican model.

"Do I need to point out that article says nothing about the issue we're discussing?"

It most certainly does. You and kgbudge were going the rounds on what the Church's position was with regard to Heartland vs. Mesoamerica. You wrote, "As for the Church's position, take a look at the video the Church released last year titled 'Scriptures Legacy' which depicts Christ visiting the Nephites in what is clearly a North American setting."

To which I replied with the link, indicating it's disingenuous to suggest the video is somehow indicative of the "Church's position," since the Church is citing those damned Mesoamericanists in its apologetic for the Book of Mormon's historicity!

So fine. You can have the Church's AV department producing stuff depicting Jesus coming to Hopewell Mounds. Cool. Just know that when it comes to what kind of scholarship the leaders of the Church turn to in order to defend the Book of Mormon's historicity, they *don't* turn to Meldrum or any other Heartlander stuff. They turn to Sorenson, Perego, and Roper. That speaks volumes. Basically, if the Brethren were concerned about losing members over the insane Mesoamerican theory, why do you think they cite things like Sorenson's "Mormon's Codex"?

"All I'd hope for out of all of this is a little more open-mindedness and a little more acceptance of what the BoM, D&C, Joseph Smith, and his contemporaries have to say."

Please do not confuse critical historical investigation with not accepting the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. Perhaps more than anything else, the most offensive thing from the Heartlanders is when they say Mesoamericanists such as myself must not really believe or appreciate Joseph Smith because I don't accept their interpretation of his comments.

"Why keep insisting on defending the Mesoamerican theory?"

Because it's the only theory that works.


MKeys • 2 years ago

The tone of your reply is just as condescending as your previous one; there's no need to read minds to recognize how defensive you are.

You refer 20 friends who agree with you (as if they'd dare challenge you when you're so defensive) as another appeal to quasi-authority, when Dan's post raised the issue of losing the rising generation (as well as millions of people who have left or gone inactive). According to you, their problems with BoM historicity are "pure rubbish," because you have a few friends who say they agree with you "pretty much." It's quite a stretch to extrapolate from that tiny sample to your conclusion that you "know" "your generation" better than I do.

I responded to Dan's post because there is a serious issue with BoM historicity that, IMO, the Mesoamerican theory makes worse. But instead of addressing that, you feel compelled to downplay the problem.

It's odd that you criticize a shorthand reference to the myriad problems with the Mesoamerican theory, but then proceed to misrepresent and distort the so-called Heartlander theory (your term, not mine).

You have made one thing perfectly clear, though; my appeal for more openmindedness was lost on you. Now you've reached the point where the Mesoamerican theory is the "only theory that works," but works for what? Selling books and cruises? Obtaining tenure at BYU? It certainly isn't working when it comes to answering legitimate, sincere questions about BoM historicity (except among your friends who don't dare contradict you).

I support and practice critical historical investigation, but that doesn't lead me to value ambiguous word counts of T&S articles over multiple journals kept by faithful associates of Joseph Smith (using the Zelph mound example). It's not a matter of "interpretation" that Joseph was familiar with the Nephites and their culture (unless your critical historical investigation rules out his mother's account), or that he described crossing the plains of the Nephites during Zion's camp.

Fortunately (for me, and I hope for you), archaeological research continues. I welcome new knowledge, whether from Mesoamerica or North America, because I have confidence that the more we know, the more we'll learn about the BoM and its historicity. And the more external evidence of the BoM we uncover, the better we can address the issues Dan originally raised in his post.

Neal Rappleye • 2 years ago


I can't speak for Stephen, but I am one of his friends and would like to go on record saying I have absolutely no fear of contradicting him when I think he is wrong. Nor do any of his other friends that I know (as usual, we share many of the same friends).

Also, I think you have misunderstood him. He was not saying that he has 20 friends, but that all of his "20-something" friends, meaning those in their 20s, which is a relevant demographic for this discussion of young people in HS and college who leave over issues like Book of Mormon historicity.

I think a number of your statements are problematic. For instance, you say, "It [the Mesoamerican theory] certainly isn't working when it comes to answering legitimate, sincere questions about BoM historicity." But what does it mean for it to be "working"? I personally have felt that nearly all my legitimate and sincere questions about BoM historicity find adequate answers in the Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography. Meanwhile, I've found the Heartland theory to be woefully inadequate to answering my questions. In other words, I feel it is the Heartland model that is not working in terms of answering legitimate and sincere questions. More problematic, however, is that you say you are simply making an "appeal for more openmindedness" and yet your above quote does not really reflect an open mind at all. Rather, it reflects a mind settled on the Heartland theory, insistent that the Mesoamerican theory has failed.

Then, you say "I support and practice critical historical investigation, but that doesn't lead me to value ambiguous word counts of T&S articles over multiple journals kept by faithful associates of Joseph Smith (using the Zelph mound example)."

OK, but what about CRITICAL historical investigation of the several eyewitness statements on the Zelph account? They are not entirely harmonious, and yet I've not seen anyone who supports the Heartland theory ever do more than simply cite the amalgamated version found in the History of the Church. What is more, they (including you) are always dismissive of scholars, like Roper, who do offer up such analysis. If critical historical investigation is what you are all about, then I would love to see some of that on the Zelph accounts from a Heartlander perspective. And I mean that sincerely.

I would also like to see the wordprints on the T&S articles taken a little more seriously. Where is the critical historical investigation here? Rod Meldrum himself has said, "when they would write, they would use specific words, and they had certain patterns that they would write [in], and so articles that are signed ‘Ed.,’ if you take a look at the linguistics, many times could be determined who it was that wrote those articles." So, he agrees that the correct authorship can be determined through careful analysis. There are all kinds of authorship attribution methods that are used. But wordprints (or more properly, stylometrics) is widely regarded as the most reliable and best tool to use when answering questions of authorship. A good historian, interested in critical historical investigation, ought to embrace the use of the best available tools for answering a historical question, not shun them or dismiss them simply because they don't like the answers that come (I note that Meldrum has also USED worprint studies in defending the Book of Mormon, so it would seem that he is picking and choosing when to rely on them, and when to dismiss them based on whether he likes the outcome).

Harold Love, who literally wrote the book on authorship attribution, said, "Today’s attributional stylometry is an exciting, statistics- and AI-based discipline ... which
is delivering important results to literary scholars and historians." He adds, "Anyone wishing to conduct serious research in [authorship] attribution studies cannot do so today without a good general understanding of
the nature and basic techniques of statistical reasoning.” Why? "The results being offered by stylometry and
computational stylistics are much too important to be neglected. In many cases they will be by far the best evidence we have in cases of disputed authorship.” In fact, a number of historical cases of unknown authorship have been settled definitively using stylometrics. So, if you are really serious about engaging in critical historical investigation, then I suggest you take the work of Roper et al. on the stylometry of the the T&S articles a little more seriously.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Excellent comments. Thanks. One of the drawbacks to blogs is having to rely on the written word; without knowing the people writing, it's difficult to discern intentions.

A good example is your conclusion that I'm not openminded about this. I did mention that I've known the Mesoamerican theory from its inception. I was a big fan of that theory at first. For many years, in fact. I, too, once thought it was "the only theory that works." But the more I learned, and the more I heard from and read the writings of Roper et al, the less credible it became. That's when I revisited Church history and Joseph's own writings and saw that the North American theory not only made more sense, but the archaeology fit. And I no longer had to conclude Joseph mistranslated the BoM or that the Nephites didn't know North from West.

Something you wrote leads me to question the seriousness of your inquiries. "I've not seen anyone who supports the Heartland theory ever do more than simply cite the amalgamated version found in the History of the Church." I've been to the site, and I met with a local historian who described each of the versions in detail, with all the inconsistencies (reminiscent, btw, of any historical account, such as the first vision or even the New Testament). I'd be happy to provide that detail if you're sincere.

By contrast, Roper's approach was to seek every possible way to discredit the accounts because of their impact on the Mesoamerican theory. Sorenson's list of 35 problems with the North American setting is so out of date it's embarrassing, but I see it reproduced still by Mesoamerican advocates.

I'm not sure why you keep bringing up Meldrum. He's done a good job attracting attention to the topic, but you and Smoot seem obsessed with this personality contest. I couldn't care less who says what; I'm interested in the underlying facts. The contest about the three T&S articles is bizarre. The stylometrics are inconclusive, and anyway, we all know that a common method of the time was writing in first person in someone else's name; people were always trying to imitate others' style. Literacy and accuracy were hardly a hallmark of T&S (which also claimed it was Nephi who visited Joseph, not Moroni). These three speculative articles are at best a tangent that contradict everything we know Joseph said about the topic--not to mention the scriptures themselves.

It would be beneficial to everyone to just lay out the facts and forget the personality conflicts, appeals to authority, etc. If you haven't seen a so-called "Heartlander" deal with the different Zelph versions, then you haven't looked into it very much. If you're satisfied with the Mesoamerican theory and don't want to be confused with additional facts and emerging evidence, that's fine with me. As Elder Oaks said, we're not going to prove the Book of Mormon with extrinsic evidence. However, as I've said from the outset, many, many people are dissatisfied with that theory, the critics are having a lot of fun with it, and I think we'd all be better off seeking more knowledge instead of trying to defend our pet theory, for whatever reason.

Thanks again for the conversation.

Neal Rappleye • 2 years ago


I'm not sure why the written word should not be a good indicator of ones views. I said that some of your comments do not reflect your claim to open-mindedness. Telling me about your history of having once supported a Mesoamerican theory does not really change the fact that things you said before do not reflect the kind of open-mindedness you claim to have. This is not a misunderstanding of tone or intent, but a simple fact that some of your words are not consistent with your "open-mindedness."

It is funny that you would say that some of MY words lead you to doubt my seriousness, I've thought the same thing about you. Like when you said, "Roper's approach was to seek every possible way to discredit the accounts because of their impact on the Mesoamerican theory." Not true. Roper's approach was to critically engage the primary sources to see what they can and cannot tell us about what Joseph Smith actually SAID (that is, after all, what critical historical investigation consists of). We can be confident that the Zelph incident happened, and I have never seen Roper deny that. We can NOT be certain that as part of that experience Joseph Smith said anything directly relevant to Book of Mormon geography, for a number of reasons that I am not going to get into in the comments section of a blog.

And if meeting with a historian is the only way to get them to discuss in detail the accounts, then it seems a little odd that you should blame me for not being serious enough. Is there solid reference to something I can read, or at least a video I can watch? I've a video on it by Kay Godfrey (I think) and a paper by Don Cannon (who is not actually affiliated with the Heartlanders so far as I know). Is there something else that I am missing? I certainly am sincere in wanting to know that. And if there is a fully, competent critique of Roper's analysis on this, I would love to see that also.

Another comment that suggests to me that you lack seriousness is when you say, "The stylometrics are inconclusive." No they are not. The stylometrics used by Roper et al., when tested against texts of known authorship, were able to identify the correct author over 98% of the time. In statistics, anything above 95% is considered strong enough to accept. If there are methodological flaws that make these results inclusive, the burden falls on those who claim such to provide an analysis of where the statistical study went wrong. And, for what it is worth, stylometrics can detect true authorship, even when something is written by a ghostwriter (someone writing in another persons name), but in any case, if someone else wrote those articles on Joseph's behalf, then that would still suggest that Joseph Smith supported them and did not think they were contrary to revelation.

Why do we keep bringing up Meldrum? Because his work is the leading work on the Heartland theory. It has nothing to do with "personalities," and more to do with the fact that when I engage a theory, I do not engage a straw-man of my own construct. I engage the ideas of the people who hold to that theory, and the data they use to support those ideas (plus any other data I can find that either supports or contradicts that theory). I try to engage, specifically, the ideas and data used by the very best, leading thinkers on the subject. When it comes to the Heartland theory, that is Meldrum. So, yes, I engage him. That does not mean I am ignoring the "facts." The facts are not some abstract thing floating around out there, capable of "speaking for themselves." Facts become meaningful to any theory only when they are arranged within a framework that promotes that theory, and that arrangement must be done by people. So there really is no neat and tidy way to separate a theory, the facts, and personalities and thus just deal with the "facts." This is something that those who write on historical theory (i.e., the thinking that goes into writing history and good critical historical investigation) have been harping on for decades.

I am not trying to be harsh. I am just trying to explain why I think the way I do. I appreciate the call for open-mindedness. But an open-mind should not have to be a mind blind or ignorant of the data. I am not simply going to turn a blind eye to all the data that I feel leads to a Mesoamerican model just to have an "open mind" about the Heartland theory. The burden is on the Heartlanders to demonstrate the flaws of the status quo, and show that the Heartland theory actually works better. I have not ignored their writings, and videos, but nothing they produce has convinced me, and I have in fact seen much in them that is, well, problematic.

Now I hope you'll appreciate that I don't really think this can go much further in the comments section on a blog. If you have something on Zelph I can read/watch that I have not seen, I'd be happy to take a look. Have a nice day (or, evening, as it about 6:45pm where I am right now).

MKeys • 2 years ago

Wow, I can't recall ever reading such a confused piece of writing in so short a space.

You summed up your approach here: "Facts become meaningful to any theory only when they are arranged within a framework that promotes that theory." Facts are just as meaningful when they demonstrate the fallacy of the theory, but only an open-minded approach will consider such facts. You have it exactly backward when you write this: "I am not simply going to turn a blind eye to all the data that I feel leads to a Mesoamerican model just to have an "open mind" about the Heartland theory."

IOW, you are engaged in confirmation bias, not open-minded, objective evaluation of the evidence, pro and con. That's exactly what has led many LDS to embrace the Mesoamerican theory. They want it to be true, so they disregard contrary evidence (which is plentiful).

An open mind not engaged in confirmation bias would be equally familiar with the archaeology of Ohio and Guatemala. From what you've written, your only "investigation" of the "Heartland" theory is "engaging" with Meldrum, but you've cited his critics exclusively, and you've done zero examination of the archaeological record in North America.

Then you place the burden of proof on the "Heartlanders" who are supposedly trying to disrupt the "status quo" of the Mesoamerican theory.

As I wrote before, if you're satisfied with the Mesoamerican theory (the "status quo"), fine. Don't confuse yourself with contrary evidence. But Dan's original post was about the problem of the "status quo" of losing youth, and in my view, the "status quo" isn't going to address this problem for those who struggle with the historicity of the Book of Mormon and aren't willing to suspend disbelief to embrace the Mesoamerican theory just because some BYU professors endorse it.

Stephen Smoot • 2 years ago

"But Dan's original post was about the problem of the "status quo" of losing youth, and in my view, the "status quo" isn't going to address this problem for those who struggle with the historicity of the Book of Mormon and aren't willing to suspend disbelief to embrace the Mesoamerican theory just because some BYU professors endorse it."

You know what, MKeys? It's time for you to put up or shut up.

You think the Mesoamerican theory is causing so much disillusionment in the Church's youth? Fine. Here's your challenge:

First, go on over to r/exmormon on Reddit. The demographic there is overwhelming young adults in the 18-30 range. So it's a perfect place to test your theory.

Okay, so here's what you do. Take everything you claim to have, including the allegedly overwhelming "archaeological record" of North America that you keep mentioning, that confirms the Book of Mormon's historicity in the "Heartland." Present it to the denizens therein and see their reaction. See how many realize the error of their ways and accept this overwhelming avalanche of Book of Mormon "evidence." As soon as you have them flocking back to the pews because the cloud of the Mesoamerican theory has been dispelled, and they can therefore once more believe in the Book of Mormon, then I'll happily concede that I was in error.

After that, I want you to write to the Brethren (with a capital "B") who approved the Gospel Topics essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon and tell them they were in error for going to Sorenson, Roper, and Perego, and instead should've really gone with Meldrum and Wayne May and other "Heartlanders." Make sure they update the essay on Gospel Topics, taking out all of that pesky Mesoamerican nonsense, and re-release it so future generations will never again fall victim to the Mesoamerican theory.

I mean, you obviously know something the Brethren (and the archaeologists, anthropologists, geneticists, and historians they relied on for the essay) don't know, so now's a perfect chance for you to set the record straight!

Once you've done that, then, and only then, can you posture here about how bogus the Mesoamerican theory is, and how awesome the Heartland theory is, and how so many people could be spared the heartache of losing their children or friends or spouses to the Dark Side if only those contemptible BYU professors who only care about tenure and academic standing would be humble enough to realize their mistakes and stop advocating the Mesoamerican model.

Good luck!

MKeys • 2 years ago

Ha-ha, are you serious? I knew you were defensive, as are pretty much all Mesoamerican theorists, but this is an astonishing response.

Is it not obvious from your comments that you are holding what you call the "Heartland" theory to a much higher standard than you apply to the Mesoamerican theory? Why? Is that because you know the Mesoamerican theory won't hold up on equal ground?

Everything about the DNA article applies to both theories. I have no problem with that essay or the work of the people cited. Your inference otherwise is bizarre.

I also don't know why you would characterize the BYU professors as "contemptible." I don't and never have. However, they have adopted a "consensus" view that appears impervious to contrary evidence. For example, Sorenson's list of 37 objections is hopelessly outdated and uninformed, but was posted within the last year on this topic: http://www.ancientamerica.o...

Look at Mark Alan Wright's Interpreter article Dan referenced above. Not only does it ignore any contrary evidence (such as how the T&S itself is far more favorable to an Ohio setting than a Mesoamerican setting), it follows the Mesoamerican advocates' pattern of casting doubt on Joseph's knowledge of the BoM himself and the credibility of his associates to "reconcile" their accounts with the Mesoamerican theory--that itself is based on a minority view within the T&S.

All I would hope for (and expect) is a fair evaluation of the evidence for both theories, based not on an appeal to authority or the kind of defensiveness you continue to display, but based on the anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and geography involved. Even if you insist on throwing out what Joseph said, wrote, and included in the D&C, you'll find that the North American setting fits the text of the BoM far better than the Mesoamerican theory--with the benefit that you don't have to assume it was mistranslated or that the Nephites didn't know cardinal directions.

But based on your hyperbolic response, I can see that my hopes and expectations won't be met here. All I can say is, I tried to introduce some common sense, some open-mindedness, and some honest discussion. I had no idea that you and the others here were so deeply welded to this Mesoamerican theory that you can't entertain the idea that you're looking in the wrong place.

brotheroflogan • 2 years ago

I think tht the mesoamerican model makes more sense. But I would like to hear how you think the North American setting fits the geography better. Do you think that the hill where Joseph got the plates was the actual hill Cumorah where the final battle was?

MKeys • 2 years ago

Sure. The usual objection is there aren't any human remains from 1,600 years ago there, but that's to be expected. By comparison, no bones were ever discovered at the site of the Battle of Hastings which was just 1,000 years ago and well documented. (Just this year scientists concluded a skull found 20 miles from that site belonged to a victim of that battle--the first such find.) The BoM evidence in North America is abundant and growing with more archaeological finds all the time.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

"The BoM evidence in North America is abundant and growing with more archaeological finds all the time."

Asserting a thing does not make it so.

And this is not so.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Well, anyone interested can visit the museums in Ohio, where you see metal breastplates and helmets and thousands of weapons and woven cloth dated to Book of Mormon times by non-LDS archaeologists. Anyone can visit the numerous hilltop fortifications and mounds perfectly described by the Book of Mormon. I recently read in the Ohio Archaeological Journal a study of an unexplained defensive wall that had been raised around a previously existing settlement. The wall dated to the time period Captain Moroni was fortifying the cities. And that's not to mention all the links Joseph Smith noted between the Midwest and the Book of Mormon people (whom he had seen in vision years before ever going west of New York).

brotheroflogan • 2 years ago

I'm definitely willing to consider this position. But isn't hill Cumorah in the wrong place? Isn't supposed to be north of the narrow neck of land? And isn't the North American model dependent on the Great Lakes region being the Sea East and the Sea West?

MKeys • 2 years ago

That's a discussion well beyond a few short blog posts, but there are plenty of sources that discuss BoM geography. The Mesoamerican model is the least plausible (not counting the Malaysian and Eritrean theories).

RaymondSwenson • 2 years ago

I don't think that what we currently call Cumorah is any more the original site of that name in the Book of Mormon than Palmyra, New York, is the same as the original Palmyra in Syria, or that Rome, New York, is the same as the original Rome in Italy. In all his very detailed account of the visits by Moroni, including seeing the hill and the stone box holding the golden plates, Joseph Smith does not say that Moroni gave a name for the hill. The only use of the name Cumorah in the Doctrine & Covenants is in Section 128, when Joseph is in Nauvoo over ten years later, when the name had entered Mormon folklore, and the name is used simply to depict an image of Moroni in the modern day restoring the gospel, not an ancient battlefield.

MKeys • 2 years ago

That's a perfect example of undermining the credibility of the D&C, which you have to do to support the Mesoamerican theory. In that same verse, he describes other specific locations by name. His mother said Joseph referred to the "hill of Cumorah" before he even translated the plates.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

"His mother said Joseph referred to the "hill of Cumorah" before he even translated the plates."

Do you understand why historians regard retrospective sources, which is what Lucy Mack Smith's biography of her son was, as something to be treated with considerable caution?

MKeys • 2 years ago

Caution, yes. Rejection because it doesn't fit a theory of BoM geography developed 150 years later?
I can't think of another instance in which historians would reject the account of an actual participant in the events for such a reason. Much of what we know about Joseph's early life is from her biography. Should we also reject her account of him telling the family about the ancient inhabitants as if he knew them, because that also undermines the Mesoamerican theory? Should we reject his claim that Moroni visited him because the T&S says it was Nephi?
The one consistency I see among Mesoamerican theorists is an effort to undermine the historical accounts wherever they contradict the Mesoamerican theory. But you can't undermine just those elements without undermining everything else the participants said and did.

jafnhar • 2 years ago

My two cents: when I was a teenager, I didn't really fit the profile of a Mormon teenager. I lived by the rules because that was the natural thing to do, but that's all I did. Otherwise, I just didn't fit in with the other LDS kids in town. So it's not like my social life suffered when I left. That was years ago, so I don't know what it's like to be a Mormon teenager nowadays. Maybe it's easier for the somewhat odd kid to fit in today. I think the "I'm a Mormon" campaign was pretty good. It at least tried to show that there's more than one cultural profile for individuals in the church.

I think the the required mission at 19 is problematic. I know there have been some recent changes to the model, but when you force an 18-year old kid to decide right now whether to spend two years in an unknown and possibly strange locale, you're often going to get an answer you don't like. Maybe if I had understood that it would be culturally acceptable to wait a year or two before going - or not go at all - then I wouldn't have been so quick to leave. As it was, I started looking at the paperwork and thinking: "Now hold on here, do I really want to do this?" At the time this seemed to be an either/or decision: go on a mission or leave the church, and the decision has to happen now. If I had perceived a middle path, maybe I would have hung around and thought about it a bit longer. But as I saw it then - and I think it was a correct perception - being uncertain about the mission would mean that I'd be "that weird guy who didn't go on a mission, so why is he still here? What's his problem?"

But maybe my case is atypical. I wouldn't know. It's just my case. I think it's true that, at least from a numbers perspective, liberalizing doctrine doesn't help. So maybe liberalizing service expectations wouldn't help either.

I'm not at all regretful about the decision not to go; it was the right decision for me, though I wish it hadn't been so emotionally fraught with the family. I like most Mormons I know just fine; like George Bailey, I'm just not a praying man.

RaymondSwenson • 2 years ago

One of the authors of the national survey wrote a book based on the conclusions, entitled "Almost Christian". The title refers to the findings that many youth raised in Christian families have not really become committed Christians. It has a chapter about the distinctive conclusions for LDS youth, titled "Mormon Envy". The author noted how much more actively involved Mormon youth are invited to be in their congregations and through programs like Seminary and Institute, and callings to serve as missionaries at a young age. My recollection is that the author was not optimistic that other Christian denominations could duplicate the LDS results, or even that they would necessarily want to, since, in her perception, they grew to a large extent out of the distinctive doctrines of Mormonism.
In one of the his essays on Mormonism and its demographic trends, collected in a book of his artiocles that featured the LDS Church, non-LDS sociologist Rodney Stark made the assertion that the increased number of "spiritual but not religious" "NONES" ("None of the above" when asked their denominational preference) actually increases the pool of potential converts to Mormonism, attracting people from that category who are willing to make a denominational commitment when they are offered something more distinctive and motivating.
My recollection is that the LDS Church arose during an era when the American frontier was being actively proselyted, with vast numbers of people "unchurched" and being invited to affilitate with the competing denominations, as described vividly by Joseph Smith.
There are sermons by Brigham Young noting how many of the people who first accepted the Restored Gospel with gladness had fallen away even in his day. And we all know examples of people who fell out of the LDS Church who later returned, from Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris to some of our own family members and home teaching families. We actively extend to those who were once in full fellowship with us repeated opportunities to return, and many of them accept that invitation, after what may be one year or twenty.

mike • 2 years ago

It's very sad to see that the percentage of Jewish youth devoted to their religion during their college years stands at a mere 7%. THAT is something to be quite concerned about. I am always worried about the one here and the one there that we tend to lose, but it would be quite different to only save one here or one there and lose all the rest.

Michael Hoggan • 2 years ago

I consider Jewish religiosity to be a very important issue. Not just for the health of the nation of Israel, but of the whole world.
While it is certainly possible to have a lot of self discipline and not be devoutly religious, my experience is that the two act very synergistically. Having said that, we need to make sure that we keep the most important things in mind when encouraging people to be faithful. We also need to work with uncomitted and/or non temple worthy members and help them grow line upon line.

brotheroflogan • 2 years ago

That's an encouraging blog post at fornspoll.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

We're idiots to have let a crackpot completely derail the discussion.

MKeys • 2 years ago

Dan wrote: "Certainly, we’re losing more than I could wish. I think often about what I, personally, might be able to do in order to help stanch the flow."

So far, I'm the only one who responded with a suggestion of what to do to help staunch the flow. That my "crackpot" suggestion offended your attachment to the Mesoamerican theory indicates that you are either oblivious to the serious problems the Mesoamerican theory is causing, or don't care. It takes only a few Internet clicks to discover that the Mesoamerican theory one of the prime tools used by the anti- and former LDS to persuade people to leave. I sincerely thought (incorrectly, it turns out) that the people who read Dan's blog would discuss this aspect of the problem he addressed. Instead, you and others who have responded have taken an "all is well in Zion" approach to the "status quo."

So by all means, don't let me "derail the discussion" by focusing on Dan's main point.

kgbudge • 2 years ago

The shoe fits?