Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Thursday, May 14, 2020

M2C volcanoes--bias confirmation and underlying assumptions

I often hear from people who wonder what I think of Dan "the Interpreter" and his rationalizations for M2C. Like more and more people, I ignore his bizarre rants, but once in a while, when enough people bring them to my attention, I'll discuss them here.

The latest one involves volcanoes. "Has the volcano responsible for the destruction in 3 Nephi been located?"

We have an ongoing dilemma with Dan's nonsense. Unchallenged, he just makes Mormonism look more and more ridiculous, but he has his followers whose bias confirmation is so strong, they don't think critically. They evangelize Dan's "interpretations" and M2C continues, unimpeded.

If you dare to point out how ludicrous his pontifications are, he'll lash out by playing the victim and his followers will accuse you of apostasy. (One of his minions--who I think is actually Dan himself under an alias--has an anonymous blog named after me, in a classic example of the ad hominem logical fallacy that Dan made famous at FARMS. You can expect some outrage theater from Dan and his alter ego in response to this post.)

IOW, there must be a compelling reason to respond to Dan. In this case there is, because no doubt there are people who read his blog who actually believe that volcanoes are evidence of M2C.

Dan has posted several times about a book by an M2C-believing volcanologist. Fair enough. I have no problem with anyone mentioning a topic of interest. I'm all in favor of promoting someone's book. The book appears sincere and earnest, so I'll discuss it briefly below.

The problem here is two-fold. First, the book's author, at least for the volcano portion, employs the same type of apologist argument that Dan and his follower have produced for years; i.e., circular reasoning based on bias confirmation.

Second, in the comments, Dan and his followers double down on these apologist arguments. Plus, after making a series of logical fallacies themselves, Dan ends up criticizing comments with his usual victim posturing and condescension:

Dan: LOL. You've just proven that you don't know what you're talking about.
I've sometimes thought that Logic 101 ought to be a required freshman course.

and this fun one:

Dan: Charles: "if you promise not to abuse the word facts"
Never have. Never will
Incidentally, you're growing tiresome. Just so you know.

Here's the form of the argument. "Joseph Smith couldn't have known about X (in this case, volcanoes) therefore the Book of Mormon is true." As usual, this form of apologist argument relies on mind-reading assumptions about what Joseph could or could not have known. It is transparent bias confirmation of the worst kind.

The problem arises when faithful LDS actually fall for this apologist argument. 

Critics simply have to point out that Joseph easily could have known about X (in this case, volcanoes) and the apologist argument disintegrates. Those who fell for the apologist argument then feel like they've "lost," when the real problem was the fallacy of the apologist argument in the first place.

This is one of those times when I don't want to point out the logical and factual fallacies of a guy's testimony. It's an ongoing concern for me. A lot of faithful LDS have wrapped their testimonies around M2C. The situation is getting worse all the time as CES and BYU enforce M2C in curriculum, the Church historians accommodate M2C by changing Church history in the Saints book, etc.

Not content with indoctrinating young LDS, Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the citation cartel are making a concerted effort to bind testimonies to M2C by engaging in "outreach" to faithful members of the Church in Central America. This creates a "wheat and tares" problem. You can't uproot M2C tares without uprooting some of the wheat.

But if you don't uproot the M2C tares, they overgrow the wheat and as people recognize the logical and factual fallacies of the M2C tares, they reject the wheat, thinking it's the same as the tares.

I consider this academic abuse. The M2C promoters (the "credentialed class" of self-appointed experts) know there are alternatives to M2C. They acknowledge that the Church is "neutral" on the issues. Yet they insist that M2C is the only viable explanation for Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. They censor alternative views, lobby Church leaders, solicit millions of dollars from Church members, and aggressively promote M2C exclusively, all in an effort to persuade Church members to believe them instead of the consistent, persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. (The key element of M2C is the 2C part, which insists the prophets are wrong and that the "real" Hill Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico. Whether non-Cumorah events took place in Mesoamerica, the midwestern U.S., or elsewhere, has never been declared as a fact the way the New York Cumorah has.)

The book Dan is referencing is a good example of the outcome of M2C ideology. Although I've never met the author, he is undoubtedly an awesome, faithful member of the Church. (There are two authors of the book, but I'm referencing the blog post that discusses the volcano argument.)

When the author employs techniques such as this (from the blog), you know it's pure confirmation bias: "For “vapor of darkness” substitute “volcanic ash” and everything falls precisely into place." 

To a hammer, everything is a nail. To a volcanologist, especially an M2C volcanologist, the Book of Mormon can only describe a volcano (provided you substitute terms). Just like to a Mayanologist, everything is Mayan (so long as you substitute "tapir" for "horse," etc.).

The argument, based on the assumed ignorance of Joseph Smith, goes like this:

Joseph Smith grew up in Vermont and New York State. He received only three years of formal education in his entire lifetime. Western New York is covered with glacial moraines – huge gravel and boulder piles shoved down from their origins in Canada by the glaciers that retreated with the Younger Dryas epoch about 11,700 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. Cumorah, the hill where Joseph found the golden plates that he translated as the Book of Mormon, is one of these glacial moraines. Joseph Smith had never seen a volcano nor felt an earthquake in his short life. A primitive form of the field of volcanology existed at the time, mainly in Italy around Vesuvius, Etna, and Stromboli volcanoes, but Pompeii and Herculaneum had not yet been seriously excavated. Tectonics as a scientific field would not develop until more than a century later.

One wonders what difference it makes whether Joseph had seen a volcano or felt an earthquake. Neither event was unknown in Joseph's time. Readers of the Bible knew about earthquakes from the 16 references it contains. 

Just before Joseph's sixth birthday, a massive earthquake struck in Missouri. The 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes were felt throughout the eastern U.S. People living in William Henry, NY, about 50 miles from Sharon, VT, reported feeling the earth move. 

Whether or not Joseph and his family in Sharon felt the earthquake, Joseph's future neighbors in Palmyra experienced the earthquake directly. A newspaper account from just 60 miles southwest from Palmyra explains:

 [American Statesman, Mar. 3, 1812]

The earthquake of the 16th Dec., was experienced with considerable severity in Charleston (S.C.) and in Allegany County, N. York. At the place last mentioned, clothes hanging on a line, and a kettle on the fire, swung backwards and forwards, very visibly to every person. A house is supposed to have rocked at least two feet both ways, and a
door was observed to swing open and shut. The bells were set to ringing, and the water in the adjacent brook put into violent motion.

Newspapers reported about it in Onondaga County, just 50 miles east of Palmyra. It was felt even in Toronto, Canada. 

The New Madrid earthquake on Feb. 7, 1812, was even more powerful. The effects were widely reported throughout the Eastern U.S., including in New York City.

Earthquakes were a common topic in the Palmyra newspapers when Joseph lived there. Joseph reportedly picked up the newspaper every week for his father. 

For example, the Jan. 18, 1818, Palmyra Register mentioned earthquakes twice.

From Paris Papers of Nov. 21.
A dreadful earthquake has occurred near Vastissa, in Turkey. The sea recoiled from its bed, and left the ships in the harbor completely dry.__ It then returned with great fury, and covered with its waves a considerable part of the main land. The city which contained eight hundred houses and many public buildings, was almost entirely destroyed, besides several villages. Above fifty of the inhabitants lost their lives, and a promontory near the mouth of the river Gaidourouponieti, was suddenly submersed, after emitting clouds of thick smoke.

The London papers mention that a very violent shock of an earthquake was experienced at St. Helena, on the '
10th Sept. and produced much consternation.

On May 26, 1818, the Palmyra Register mentioned earthquakes in four articles:

1. Earthquake. The Paris papers mention that a violent earthquake was felt in Sicily on the 20th February, which did much damage. In Catania a great part of the cathedral and of the seminary were shaken down, and many 
ecclesiastics were crushed under their ruins. In Zaffrana the people were assembled for public worship, when the church fell and crushed the preacher and fifty persons under its ruins. All the villages on the sides of Mount Aetna were ruined.

2. When we see some extraordinary agent in motion beyond the power of human strength or of skill to resist, we tremble and sink into our own insignificance— when we behold the billows of the ocean lashed into fury by the winds, or a stately city red with the beams of conflagration— when we witness the passage of a thunderbolt
through the firmament, or the silent march of an earthquake over our continent,—we tremble with fear and prostrate ourselves in the dust, we sympathise with those who have fallen tho victims; it requires all this evidence to convince man that he is mortal.”

3. According to the French papers, the storms in France have equalled in violence the storms in England.__"The elements are at war," says one of the Paris papers, "and it seems for some time, as if a grand physical evolution was in preparation; Luminous meteors, discharging stones, appear on all sides; earthquakes have been felt in all latitudes, water-spouts carry women up into the air; all shores are covered with wreck: at Munich, subterraneous noises are heard, and horses are suddenly visited with cold sweats, as from fear; wells are dug to ascertain the nature of these sudden explosions. At Petersburg, the barometer fell as low as during the great earthquake at Lisbon. Shall we speak of Paris? the tempest rages both in the air and in the mind: slates and pamphlets rain down upon us at the same time,and the passengers incur the double editions. Who shall allay such a tempest, and danger of being overwhelmed by chimnies and pronounce the celebrated Quos ego."

4. A Second Jonah.
The following extraordinary fact is recorded on a tombstone at Green-bay, in the island of Jamaica ; “Here lieth the body of H. Goodping, Esq. who departed this life at Port Royal,Dec. the 22d, 1739, aged 80 years. He was born at Mount Pelo, in France, but left that kingdom for his religion, and came to settle in this Island, where he was swallowed up in the great earthquake in 1692, but by divine providence was, by another violent shock, thrown up into the sea! which at that time ran mountains high, and miraculously saved himself by swimming, until by force of the waves he wax driven near the land where he was rescued from a watery grave by the crew of a small vessel, and again safely landed. He lived many years after in great reputation, beloved by all who knew him, and much lamented at his death, Peace to his manes.”

The local papers reported about volcanoes, too. The March 30, 1825, Wayne Sentinel reported this:

Essex, (Essex co) March 4. 
Volcano— On Sunday last, about 2 o’clock in the morning, a shock was felt in this town, supposed to be an earth
quake. Some thought it to be thunder, others supposed at the moment that it was the rattling of waggons on the frozen ground, and others thought it to be the cracking of ice in the lake. In Brookfield the shock was much more severe.—
But we have just learned from the town of Lewis, that it proves to have been a volcano. We understand that there is
a mountain there, whose bowels of stones and earth, have been thrown out to the depth of a hundred feet, and that smoke was seen to issue from the centre, for three days afterwards.

Aside from the newspapers, books on sale in Palmyra when Joseph lived there included several that discussed the sciences, travel, history, etc.

Alexander von Humboldt's 2-volume work on "New Spain" discusses volcanoes quite a bit. He even compares the events in Central America to Naples (Pompeii). 

This is the same work that discusses Panama as a "neck of land" and discusses fevers, etc. If you wanted to find a "source" for Joseph's knowledge about "volcanoes" you don't have to look any further than this.

In my view, these sources are evidence that Joseph translated the plates, but that's another topic.

If we employ the M2C mind-reading approach, Humboldt's New Spain provides all the evidence Joseph would have needed to "realize" Mesoamerica was the setting for the Book of Mormon, the location of Cumorah, etc. He didn't need to learn about earthquakes, volcanoes, and ruins in Mesoamerica from a popular travel book and then wait until 1842 to write anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons

Of course, had he "realized" Mesoamerica was the setting, he wouldn't have identified the New York hill as Cumorah, the Indians in New York, Ohio and Missouri as "Lamanites," the plains of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as the "plains of the Nephites," etc.  

The point here is that the New Madrid earthquakes are a direct match for the destruction in 3 Nephi. Unlike the M2C theory, you don't need to explain why Mormon forgot to mention volcanoes in 1,000 years of Mayan history--even when he was supposedly describing them in 3 Nephi.

Arguing that Joseph couldn't have known anything about earthquakes or volcanoes relies on an assumption that he didn't read the local newspaper he bought every week, that he didn't read the books that were readily available, and that he didn't discuss any of this with his neighbors and friends. Such a lack of curiosity contradicts everything we know about Joseph Smith.

Plus, thanks to SITH, we have to infer that the mysterious and unknown actual translator from "Early Modern English" days for some reason borrowed language readily available in Palmyra, NY, circa 1820-30.  But that's another topic, as well.

Notice the terminology in this excerpt from Humboldt, Vol. 2, p. 212-216. 

(Of course, M2C bias confirmation is so strong, they would take Humboldt as evidence of M2C!)

  Till the middle of the 18th century, fields cultivated with sugar-cane and indigo occupied the extent of ground between the two brooks called Cu'tamba and San Pedro. They were bounded by basaltic mountains, of which the structure seems to indicate that all this country at a very remote period had been already several times convulsed by volcanoes. These fields, watered by artificial means, belonged to the plantation (hacienda) of San Pedro de Jorullo, one of the greatest and richest of the country. In the month of June 1759, a subterraneous noise was heard. Hollow noises of a most alarming nature (bra mi los), were accompanied by frequent earthquakes, which succeeded one another for from 50 to 60 days, to the great consternation of the inhabitants of the hacienda. From the beginning of September every thing seemed to announce the complete re-establishment of tranquillity, when in the night between the 28th and 29th, the horrible subteraneous noise recommenced. The afflighted Indians fled to the mountains of Aguasarco. A tract of ground from three to four square miles in extent", which goes by the name of Malpays, rose up in the shape of a bladder. The bounds of this convulsion are still distinguishable in the fractured strata. The J/a/paus near its edges is only 12 metres above the old level of the plain called the playas de Joruſlo; but the convexi y of the ground thus thrown up increases progressively towards the centre to an elevation of 160 metrest. Those who witnessed this great catastrophe from the top of Aguasarco assert that flames were seen to issue forth for an extent of more than half a square league, that fragments of burning rocks were thrown up to prodigious heights, and that through a thick cloud of ashes, illumined by the volcanic fire, the softened surface of the earth was seen to swell up like an agitated sea. The rivers of Cuitamba and San Pedro precipitated themselves into the burning chasms. The decomposition of the water contributed to invigorate the flames, which were distinguishable at the city of Pascuaro, though situated on a very extensive table land 1400 metress elevated above the plains of las playas de Jorullo. Eruptions of mud, and especially of strata of clay enveloping balls of decomposed basaltes in concent ical layers, appear to indicate that subterraneous water had no small share in producing this extraordinary revolution. Thousands of small cones, from two to three metres" in height, called by the indigenes ovens (horntos), issued forth from the Japays. Although within the last fifteen years, according to the testimony of the Indians, the heat of these volcanic ovens has suffered a great diminution, I have seen the thermometer rise to 95°f on being plunged into fissures which exhale an aqueous vapour. Each small cone is a fumorola, from which a thick vapour ascends to the height of ten or fifteen metres. In many of them a subterraneous noise is heard, which appears to announce the proximity of a fluid in ebullition. In the midst of the ovens six large masses elevated from 4 to 500 metrest each above the old level of the plains, sprung up from a chasm, of which the direction is from the N.N.E. to the S.S.E. This is the phenomenon of the Montenovo of Naples, several times repeated in a range of volcanic hills. The most elevated of these enormous masses, which bears, some resemblance to the puys de l'Auvergne, is the great Volcan de Jorullo. It is continually burning, and has thrown up from the north side an immense quantity of scorified and basaltic lavas containing fragments of primitive rocks. These great eruptions of the central volcano continued till the month of February 1760. In the following years they became gradually less frequent. 

The Indians, frightened at the horrible noises of the new volcano, abandoned at first all the villages situated within seven or eight leagues distance of the playas de Jorullo. They became gradually, however, accustomed to this terrific spectacle; and having returned to their cottages, they advanced towards the mountains of Aguasarco and Santa Iñes, to admire the streams of fire discharged from an infinity of great and small volcanic apertures. The roofs of the houses of Queretaro were then covered with ashes at a distance of more than 48 leagues in a straight line from the scene of the explosion. Although the subterraneous fire now appears far from violent and the Malpays and the great volcano begin to be covered with vegetables, we nevertheless found the ambient air heated to such a degree by the action of the small ovens (hormitos , that the thermometer at a great distance from the surface and in the shade rose as high as 4.,” “. This fact appears to prove that there is no exaggeration in the accounts of several old Indians, who affirm that for many years afer the first eruption the plains of Jorullo, even at a great distance from the scene of the explosion, were uninhabitable, from the excessive heat which revailed in them.

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