Thursday, August 21, 2014

"C" is for Cherry Picking

Daniel "C" Peterson gave the final talk at the FAIRMormon conference, choosing to critique the criticizing “Letter to a CES Director” by Jeremy Runnells.  I can summarize most of his talk by quoting him thusly, “I can understand why a normal person confronted by that would say, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got a life.’ ”  

Joking aside, Peterson’s talk repeats a couple of mantras that critics  “simply haven’t studied enough,” they are  “impatient” with the lengthy  “time it takes to lay a foundation to properly answer,” and that critics have “jumped ship too soon.”  

If one can call the Mormon Church a ship at sea, apologists are way out in the sea holding onto half-bitten life-preservers and claiming all is well in Zion.  They're all right because, well, their heads are still above water.  If a member is drowning in doubts do they offer him part of their floatee?  No, they accuse that person of not reading enough in the manual on how to swim.

While you drown they will also let you know of their prominent head-above-water pedestal position.  Peterson made an ill attempt at comparing himself to scientists and critics with creationists who attack evolutionists.  He writes, “They’ll ask that one question that the scientists can’t answer, and then they’ll have an epiphany, a revelation, and realize that all of their science is a lie…It happens to me all the time too.”

Imagine this comparison—on one side you have LDS critics who quote refereed scientific journals, notables like Michael D Coe (prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University), Dr. Robert K Ritner (professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago) and more—and on the other side you have the apologists who along with some study also ask you to rely on faith and trust them that the church is true.  In Peterson’s bizarro-world critics are asking you for faith and the apologists are the scientists.  Yes, you can laugh now.

After indirectly attacking critics as simple minded, impatient, ship-jumping nobodies, does Peterson ever actually address the content of the CES Letter?  Meh.  A little.  

For example, to pull a D-Peterson and cherry pick one of his few, Peterson raises the criticism about the Book of Abraham, specifically about the “gibberish” of the names used for elements in Facsimile 1.  Peterson tells us that in fact, Joseph Smith did get something right.  He refers to item 9 (a crocodile) in Facsimile 1, denoted by Smith as "idolatrous god of Pharaoh".  You see, the word "Pharaoh" is a true Egyptian word (unlike almost all of the other proper names Smith used in his denotations).  And, in a convoluted connect-the-dots path, Peterson claims that the depicted crocodile is the crocodile god Sobek who is in fact an idolatrous god worshipped during the time that allegedly Abraham may have lived. See, Sobek is the second cousin of the ex-wife of a servant who fastened the laces of Pharaoh’s best friend. And Voilà!  Joseph was right!

Ok, we’ll give them that one.  Joseph Smith-1, Critics-629. 

For a "plain and precious gospel", it is anything but plain.  The apologists know their tasks are complex.  It is a standard apologetic practice to comb all possibilities in the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon text and find any rare match to reality while ignoring all the hundreds or thousands of misses. Peterson decries critics for finding a singular flaw in his studies and immediately giving up.  But his classic apologist cherry picking technique declares victory on singular hits in the sea of drowning misses.

His victory on the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh" is short lived.  The word Pharaoh was a known and even popularized term in the early 19th century.  The Book of Abraham uses the word about a dozen times in the text and another five times in the facsimiles. One could even argue more simply that Joseph Smith ran out of creativity in picking an imagined name of another idolatrous god, so he conveniently went with "Pharaoh" on that last one.  Of the 17 uses of Pharaoh in the BoA, Joseph Smith absolutely incorrectly identifies Pharaoh in Facsimile 3 (item 2) which is not “king Pharaoh”.  The depiction is not only a woman, instead of a man, but it is the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris.  In item 4 of the same, he incorrectly claims the prince of Pharaoh who Egyptologists rightly identify as a woman (again) and the goddess Maat.  The book of Abraham also teaches that Pharaoh and the Egyptians descended from Ham and Canaan (Abraham 1:21-22, 26-27). And that Abraham taught Pharaoh "astronomy" principles that are fodder for jokes at physicist parties.   Not a single Egyptologist or physicist would agree with such claims.  The list of misses goes on and on from there.

So, if Daniel “C” Peterson wants to find a tenuous claim correct in the Book of Abraham involving “idolatrous god of Pharaoh” he should give equal time to all of the many errors Smith made on the matter of Pharaoh.  Errors which are far more clear to see than the dot-linking convoluted path Peterson picks through his cherry tree for the one score he steals.

His parting words are, “those who have been led by the Letter to a CES Director to abandon their faith, should, in my view, reconsider those Mormon claims and the abundant historical support that’s available for them. They simply haven’t studied enough.”

Translation (from a hat): “They simply haven’t cherry picked enough.”

Afterword, with regards to cherry picking. Even Peterson said in his own talk while defending against the Vernal Holley map that, "if you take a long enough list of place names, you’ll find parallels, especially if you’re “loosy-goosy” about it. You’ll find parallels with just about anything. This is easily done. I could show you words that definitely come from Arabic that occur in English, that have no relationship. They’re vaguely similar. They’re totally different definitions. If you have no standards for what counts as evidence, anything could count as evidence."

Exactly, Dan.  NHM, Pharaoh and all that you claim as "really wonderfully strong things" are just what you said--vaguely similar coincidences.  If the claims of the Book of Mormon that you find matched to reality were really more than mere coincidence, scholars the world over would have found them.  Instead, they find, time and time again, the data is almost entirely (and proportionately) against the BoM claims.


  1. This is a simple recurring theme in Mormonism. Give a reason so convoluted that the average person will throw their hands in the air and admit, "That is way over my head but obviously the leaders of the church have answers to these things so all is well in Zion" The church continues with their formula for success. Confuse, contort, obfuscate collect money, repeat.

  2. A couple of thoughts on Daniel C. Peterson's talk.

    1) He interestingly charges Jeremy Runnells with information/checklist overload, for the length of his 90 page document. Strangely after, Peterson then provides references to over a dozen books containing likely hundreds of pages each, that he believes a sincere person should read before having an opinion. I see a disconnect in that logic. To add insult to injury, in his section criticizing the length of the CES Letter, Peterson cites a criticism about the letter from Jeff Lindsay, who is the most verbose overwhelm-the-issue-with-words, amateur apologist defending Mormonism on the web. Where does that guy get off criticising the letter on the basis of length??

    2) Peterson closes his talk referring to all the non-Mormon "intellectuals" who have had occasion to say something nice in regard to Joseph Smith or Mormonism, in order to justify the need to take the faith seriously. Yet, Peterson also fails to account for why non of these thinkers have been impressed enough to join??? For example, he quotes Harold Bloom who thought Joseph Smith was an imaginative religious thinker. Get a clue Daniel, when Harold Bloom is calling Joseph Smith "imaginative", as kindly as he may mean it, he is actually saying that he thinks Joseph Smith made it all up!! Harold Bloom believes Joseph Smith contrived the the theology and the scriptures of Mormonism! He may be impressed by that...but he thinks your Prophet was a fraud!! Duh!

  3. Continued from above:

    3) Probably the biggest problem with all of this is that Daniel Peterson, like even Jeremy Runnells perhaps, misses the forest through the trees and gets lost in the details. For example, Peterson starts his talk by referring to a family he knew growing up that left the Church when they were confronted with some Book of Mormon authorship challenges in the early 1990's. He insists that they must have already had one foot out the door and were simply looking for justification. He is implicitly under the idea that a person is under the moral and religious obligation of wanting Mormonism to be true, and that they must be heartbroken to learn to believe otherwise. It's obnoxious!

    The fact is he is most likely right, this family probably did have one foot out the door. After all, if the Mormon way of life were ideal under any circumstances, then true or not, there would be very little reason to "apostatize". The fact is that being a Mormon sucks, it is constraining and mind numbingly onerous with sterile tasks, committees, and micromanagement over things that need no management. People are leaving not because the Church isn't true...but because it is stupid. They were staying because they believed it was true, and so like paying a tax they were willing to put up with the crap, but they leave because it's just plain stupid and there's no reason for the tax.

  4. Continued from above (final):

    The problem with the CES Letter, and in addition Peterson's response, is that it assumes that people stay in or leave the Church on the basis of the evidence. Mormon's pride their allegiance on this intangible confirmation from God, called the "spirit" defined as their personal "testimony". Peterson will be the first to admit that while he finds the evidence compelling, even though many of us would disagree, that the ultimate validation of Mormonism is found on a personal level through personal interactions with spirits and deity. There is tremendous pressure within Mormonism to reinforce this idea among ourselves that each person receives this independent spiritual confirmation. We hold testimony meetings that "challenge" the members to assert their testimonies publicly. While we claim this, it's strange that this knowledge or testimony can suddenly evaporate upon learning history. The fact is, it doesn't! While we think we are leaving because of "historical issues", we aren't, we are in fact leaving for spiritual reasons. In particular, when confronted with challenging history we are forced or allowed to finally evaluate or confidence in this so-called testimony or spiritual knowledge, and finding that no such knowledge exists, side with the probabilities of reality and judge Mormonism to be an artificial worldview. The history and conflicts facilitate this dilemma, but at the end of the day it's not because of these issues directly. In short, Peterson can rationalize on the details all he wants, but while he can paint an interesting picture he can't compensate for the spiritual void that is Mormonism.

  5. Peterson cherry picked, that's for sure. He could have addressed the horse issue in the CES letter. In the past, DCP has boldly stated that there is evidence of horses in America dating to the time of Christ. The FAIR conference would have been a good time to show that evidence. But he avoided that. Why? Because he knows the so-called evidence is pure pseudo, just as any critic who studies enough will realize.