What follows is a question that was recently put to me, and my answer. Some may find it a useful big picture analysis of Mormon polygamy/polygyny.
All the best,
Dear Mr. Mccue,
My name is * and I live in **. I have been reading a little of the information on your web site. I am researching certain religions and Mormonism is one of them. The question I have for you, on the matter of polygyny, is if you know any references where either Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor or any of the other leaders of the FLDS were able to explain the contradiction between D&C section 132 and what is written in The Book of Mormon; Jacob 2:24 – 29, that is, if any of them were able to explain it at all. Thank you in advance for any information you can offer.
You might also reference Ether 10:5 and the language in the “Book of Commandments” (the precursor to the Doctrine & Covenants) at the time Smith and others were engaged in polygamy on the “con” side. That is, Mormon theology appeared to make it quite clear that polygamy (let alone polygyny) was not permitted.
On the “pro” side, see D&C 132: 37 and 38 which indicate that the Biblical patriarchs who had polygamous wives and concubines only sinned insofar as they entered into these relationships without God’s permission. D&C 132 then goes on to, in effect, prescribe the same law for Mormons. The reference to the Biblical tradition rationalizes the Book of Mormon scriptures you noted, in my view, as long as you accept the premises that the Bible is an accurate account of God’s dealings with mankind, as is the Book of Mormon. That is, Abraham et al clearly had many sexual relationships that were approved by God. That is where the twelve tribes of Israel come from, after all. And David clearly sinned by entering into a particular sexual relationship in circumstances of which God did not approve. The fact that God might give a woman already married to one man to another is not expressly addressed by either the relevant Book of Mormon scriptures or D&C 132. All that is made clear is that whatever God commands is OK.
The idea that was taught by Smith and early Mormon leaders to justify a married woman entering into â€œspiritual wiferyâ€ with a Mormon leader was that Godâ€™s law overrides temporal law (see the reference to â€œtheocratic ethicsâ€ below), and that women have the right to â€œtrade upâ€ by leaving a less faithful husband for one with a better chance to offer them and their children access to the highest reaches of the Celestial Kingdom, subject of course to God approving the union in question. Since it was generally (if not exclusively) the case that Mormon leaders approached women to advise them of Godâ€™s will in this regard, the idea that a woman has the â€œoptionâ€ to trade up is pretty thin in my view. Smith told some women that God had commanded both him and them to obey this command by way of sending an angel with drawn sword to advise Smith that both he and the woman in question would be destroyed if they did not obey.
In any event, the Biblical record, the Book of Mormon and D&C 132, in my view, all hang together rationally on the basis just indicated as long as you accept that Godâ€™s current word overrides both social mores and civil law and that Smith was the purveyor of Godâ€™s most recent word. In that case, both polygamy and polygyny as he ran them were OK. I think that you will find, generally speaking, that the Mormon apologists run down this line, and I am sure that there is plenty to be found from Mormon leaders to this effect. I have not read material from this genre in long enough, however, to be able to quote line and verse.
Now, to what is of greater interest to me. I note the obvious sexual access advantages this system created for the members of the Mormon leadership hierarchy from time to time as long as polygamy/polygyny was accepted as Godâ€™s will. I have found that the question we are told to ask while attempting to understand social behavior from an evolutionary perspective is helpful in this regard. That question is â€œwho benefitsâ€ from the propagation of a particular idea or belief. When we find that the persons who benefit are those who are spreading the belief, it is frequently if not generally the case the case that they have not been willing or able to adequately test the beliefâ€™s legitimacy. This is precisely why the checks and balances within democracy are of crucial importance. Once in power, those who make the rules simply cannot be trusted. This is as close to a universal principle of human behavour as can be found. The behavior of Smith and other early Mormon leaders who clearly were trying to establish a theocracy is only one of countless examples that support this principle. And their behaviour with regard to the establishment and promotion of polygamy is a classic in this genre.
As noted above, the idea of Godâ€™s word overriding legal and moral constraints was critical to understanding much of what Smith did. I like Michael Quinnâ€™s summary of this concept (see page 88 of his book “Mormon Hierarchy â€“ The Origins of Power”) as follows:
Smith remained aloof from civil office, but in November 1835 he announced a doctrine I call “theocratic ethics”. He used this theology to justify his violation of Ohio’s marriage laws by performing a marriage for Newel Knight and the undivorced Lydia Goldthwaithe without legal authority to do so… In addition to the bigamous character of this marriage, Smith had no license to perform marriages in Ohio.
Although that was the first statement of this concept, Smith and his associates put that theology into practice long before 1835, and long after. Two months later Smith performed marriage ceremonies for which neither he nor the couples had marriage licenses, and he issued marriage certificates “agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Theocratic ethics justified LDS leaders and (by extension) regular Mormons in actions which were contrary to conventional ethics and sometimes in violation of criminal laws.
This ethical independence is essential for understanding certain seemingly inconsistent manifestations in Mormonism. Some had already occurred – reversals in doctrine and divinely revealed procedures, and the publication of unannounced changes in written revelations and historical texts. The Knight marriage was a public example of Joseph Smith’s violation of laws and cultural norms regarding marriage and sexual behavior – the performance of civil marriages by legally unauthorized officiators, monogamous marriage ceremonies in which one or both partners were undivorced from legal spouses, polygamous marriage of a man with more than one living wife, his marriage proposals to females as young as twelve, his sexual relationships with polygamous wives as young as fourteen, polyandry of women with more than one husband, marriage and cohabitation with foster daughters, and Mormon marriages of first cousins, brother-sister, and uncle-niece. Other manifestations of Mormonism’s theocratic ethics would soon begin in Kirkland and continue intermittently for decades – the official denials of actual events, the alternating condemnation and tolerance for counterfeiting and stealing from non-Mormons, threats and physical attacks against dissenters or other alleged enemies, the killing and castration of sex offenders, the killing of anti-Mormons, the bribery of government officials, and business ethics at odds with church standards. [end quote]
I cannot overemphasize how disgusted I was when I found out about Joseph Smith’s sexual behaviour and the other practises just mentioned. The evidence I have reviewed is very clear to the effect that he used his position of authority to take advantage of many women, some of them married and others very young; all of them innocent believers in his divine mandate. And those who refused him often had their reputations besmirched and suffered in other ways as a result of doing what was right. You can imagine my surprise when I read psychological studies that, without mentioning Joseph Smith, described his profile (charismatic religious or other leader, etc.) and predicted that he would have trouble keeping his trousers up while in willing female company, and that as the alpha male of the group he led that he would not have trouble finding willing sexual consorts.
I note in passing that the language in D&C 132 that describes God as “giving” various women to various men is particularly offensive to modern sensibilities, but consistent with the mores of Biblical times if not Smith’s day. This is also consistent with the manner in which Smith and other Mormon leaders propositioned many of the women who became their “spiritual wives”. The women were notified, in effect, that it was God’s will that they enter into a marital-like relationship with Smith or others. Smith used his approval over polygamous relationships to control those of his followers who were living the “principle”, as it was called. That is, when some men attempted to form polygamous or polygynous relationships without Smith’s approval, it appears that they were disciplined. One of these, John C. Bennett, became one of the first to leave Mormonism and attempt to “expose” it. See http://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/benintro.htm for a summary related to him. I note that in both primitive human social groups, modern religious cults and even certain animal groups, the ability of an alpha male to control sexual access to the females of the group is a powerful leadership tool used to maintain social hierarchy.
I doubt that Smith had multiple sexual partners in mind when he wrote (or collaborated in the writing of) the Book of Mormon. In my view, Mormon polygamy was simply the result of the alpha male (Smith) of a human social group (early Mormons) taking advantage of the traditional alpha male prerogative (lots of sexual partners). As word of his activities leaked out, the idea of divinely sanctioned polygamy was formed to prevent disaster (Smith losing control of his group on moral grounds) and Biblical precedent was used to justify that because it was available and useful in that regard.
It is probable, in my view, that the same sociological forces that led Smith to do what he did also governed the behavour of the Biblical patriarchs (if they indeed existed) as well as others of their day. And if you are the one who indicates which women have been “given” to you by God, there is not much chance of running afoul of God, is there? And if God is going to tell you which other men have women “given” to them, this will help you to stay in control of those men, won’t it? D&C 132 appointed Smith to that office. So even though Smith did things similar to what got David in trouble (“do not plant seeds in another man’s field”, to quote an Amerindian “commandment” – this more is close to a human universal), that was OK with Smith’s God. Smith, as you likely know, was married to and in all probability had sexual relations with women married to other men. In at least one case, he sent a Mormon man away on a mission for the Mormon Church, and then almost immediately propositioned the departed man’s wife inthe manner just noted. I think that Mormon polygamy is likely a fascinating case of how one small thing (a religious leader having some illicit sex) can lead to something huge, like the entire social complex relating to Mormon polygamy, including the modern Mormon fundamentalists who continue to live a polygamous lifestyle and attract converts from mainstream Mormonism and people like me who are descendants of polygamous Mormons. This is the butterfly effect in a social context, in my view.
So, we have Smith in public and private for over a decade indicating the he was not engaged in polygamous activities (using Clintonesque language I might add, around the issue of what he was doing), and Mormonism’s official rule book clearly indicating during that period that polygamy was not permitted. Then, when Smith finally had to go public with what he was doing because it was becoming so widely known, D&C 132 was presented as a revelation over ten years after Smith has started his polygamous, polyandrous, etc. affairs. This was justified on the basis that God had commanded Smith to lie because the people were not ready to hear about what he was doing. And during the time while the public and regular Mormons were being deceived as to Smith and other’s sexual activities, as insiders became aware of what was going, God “revealed” to Smith that they were entitled to participate as well. This is classic “co-opting” behavior as described in social theory – if you turn those who might challenge you into “partners in crime” they will not challenge you. And a few insiders, such as Hyrum Smith, who for some reason did not wise up to what was going on remained on the outside and so continued until the end of the ten year+ piece just noted to publicly deny that there was any polygamy going on, and were not corrected by the leadership cadre by whom they were surrounded and with whom they associated daily, almost all of whom were actively engaged in polygamy. To have a few innocents like Hyrum categorically denying polygamy was of course helpful to the public’s impression of reality. This is a tactic regularly used by fraud artists today. Innocents are recruited and purposely kept in the dark about what is going on while “selling” the fraud with the best of intentions based on their limited understanding of the facts. These innocents are crucially important megaphones and salespeople for those whose credibility on its own would not be adequate to pull off certain types of scams. The most trustworthy and innocent the megaphone, the more effective it is. The innocent young and old people who conduct today’s Mormon missionary work, most local Mormon leaders (who are generally well intentioned, moral, wonderful people) and some of its highest leaders, are in my view innocent dupes of this type.
The period related to early Mormon polygamy is one of the darkest chapters in Mormon history, in my view. I recommend that you read Compton’s book “In Sacred Loneliness” and Von Wagoner’s “Mormon Polygamy: A History” if you have a serious interest in the topic.
Now, I must confess that I am not as expert with regard to LDS history as many people are. I invite you to ask your question, and send of copy of what is above, to * at **. * knows more Mormon history than do I. He is an active member of the LDS church and well-known in its “apologetic” community. While he and I disagree regarding many things, we carry on a respectful dialogue and I have generally found his ability to put his hands on the “facts” (such as is possible in historical analysis in any event) to be reliable and so would commend him to you. He and I will, no doubt, draw different conclusions from facts on which we are likely to agree for the most part at least. He can be counted on to give you a side of the story that I am not likely to either see or find persuasive. And you deserve to have access to both sides of this story.
Since I encourage you to hear the Mormon side of this story, I should also quickly say something about apologetics in general. This is tied into the power of narratives to build social fabric, and the power of social fabric to make us believe certain things are real and others are not, regardless of what reality ultimately turns out to be. I have cut and pasted what follows from other things I have written, with a few modifications.
As todayâ€™s nuerologists have pointed out (see for example Quartz and Sejnowski, â€œLiars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Areâ€), our brains are formatted to a significant extent by the physical and social environment in which we exist during our developmental years (up to early adulthood). For example, cats raised from birth in a room without vertical lines walked into table legs when released into the “real” world, and their patterns of brain activity were consistent with those legs not being visible. Their brains, conditioned by their environment, could not perceive the vertical plane. Similar data of a less formal basis has been collected regarding pygmies led out of the forest for the first time who were incapable of grasping the significance of animals grazing on a plain hundreds of yards away. Such distances were not part of their world. Their brains had no context within which to make sense out of their perceptions. They thought they were seeing miniatureanimals.
The most authoritative storytellers recognized by our particular social group provide much of the material around which our brains are formatted. The story about the manner in which God did (or did not) confer supernatural powers on Joseph Smith in order to bring the Book of Mormon into being is a good example of a powerful story of this type. In the contemporary Mormon community, this story ironically coexists with many others that are mostly scientific in orientation.
This brings us to the concept of â€œpremisesâ€. Premises are a group’s “givens”; their wallpaper; and most importantly, the ideas that if accepted render the rest of their belief system â€œsensibleâ€. For example, IF God did confer on Joseph Smith the power to â€œtranslateâ€ the Book of Mormon, then it is logical to believe that the many stories Smith told of angelic visitations and other special authorities he received from God were also true, including his stories about being told by God both to have sex with multiple women (some of whom were married to other men) and to deceive both the public and members of his church about what he was doing.
So, premises relate to what a group deems “sacred” – that is, beliefs so important that they should not be questioned and so are protected by all of the taboos the group can muster. In the contemporary western world, democracy and “equal” (in some hard-to-define sense) human rights are sacred in this sense. Belief systems as diverse as those of primitive people, Catholicism, Scientology, Marxist Communism, representative democracy, etc. can be boiled down to a few â€œpremisesâ€ which if accepted, render most of the rest of the belief system â€œlogicalâ€.
The nature of premises is nicely illustrated by an account an anthropologist gave respecting a visit he made to Artic to study the Inuit (see Ehrlich, â€œHuman Naturesâ€). He first met with a Catholic priest who had recently arrived in the Inuit community. The priest told him about the nativesâ€™ belief system, how crude and silly it was, how it involved the spirits of ancestors and animals playing a role in daily life, etc. Then the anthropologist went over to see the Inuit. When he asked how they were getting along with the priest, he was told that the priest was a nice enough fellow, but had some outlandish beliefs. They then proceeded to laugh so hard they fell over while describing the story of the virgin birth. The Inuit could not believe that a person of obvious sophistication and wisdom, like the priest, could believe something as ridiculous as that. Such is the nature of our most important premises â€“ they are pounded so deep into our cultural and psychological background that they are immune from critiqueand hence often bizarre when considered by anyone who considers them in the rational way a cultural outsider would tend to use.
The function of the stories told by a groupâ€™s storytellers is, for the most part, to so thoroughly engrain the basic premises of a belief system that they pass into the realm of the â€œsacredâ€, and so beyond questioning, in the fashion just described.
Sacred beliefs, as noted above, are protected by taboos, and again the role of the storytellers is of critical importance in creating the perception of reality that gives strength to a taboo. For example, Mormons believe that terrible things happen to a Mormon who â€œloses his testimonyâ€. These include not being able to be with his family after death, often going through divorce and estrangement from family members and close friends during this life, and in general, losing the â€œjoyâ€ that comes only from being a faithful Mormon. Similar beliefs are found in countless other communities from the Jehovahâ€™s Witnesses, to certain Muslim, Jewish and other groups.
So, when a person is confronted with evidence that questions the validity of an important belief her adrenalin system fires up. The stronger the taboo, the stronger this response. In primitive societies, the breach of many such taboos meant death. Our instincts still appear to be wired on this basis because of the lengthy period of time during which our ancestors lived this way. And it is well documented that a firing adrenalin system interferes with our ability to engage in certain types of critical reasoning. Rather, we tend toward conservative behaviour. Sources of perceived danger, in particular, are avoided instead of examined. And so any source of evidence that questions a fundamentally important belief tends to be avoided.
It is also interesting to note a clearly defined pattern created by the generally scientific nature of modern society and the various sacred and often supernatural premises of various religious groups. For example, Mormons and most members of almost all other faiths except the Jehovahâ€™s Witnesses, reject the supernaturalism related to JW beliefs â€“ the sacred JW premises. Conversely, JWs side with the members of virtually all other faiths in rejecting the supernatural claims that support Mormon beliefs. The pattern is that religious people tend to be scientific in orientation with regard to all beliefs except those required to support the premises of their particular belief system. So, when they enter the arena defined by their own religious beliefs they become, from the perspective of all outsiders, â€œirrationalâ€. The same pattern is visible to a lesser degree (in most cases) when it comes to issues related to politics, economics, environmentalism, and other issues that are hard to definitively analyse and charged with emotion.
Evolutionary theory has an elegant explanation for this pattern. That is, evolution selects for people who are pre-disposed to not “falsifying” the myths on which their society is based while being able to do so with regard to myths on which other social groups are based. This strengthens the “in group” ideology and weakens all “out group” ideologies. This makes sense because throughout most of human history keeping one’s group together likely conferred greater survival and reproductive advantages than any individual “finding the truth” etc. So, our brains developed to tend toward conscious acknowledgement of the kind of realities that threatened group cohesion only when most of our “in group” was ready to come to the same conclusion, hence reducing pressure on group stability to manageable levels.
â€œBiasesâ€ and â€œcognitive dissonanceâ€ play important roles in the psychological matrix that reduces the likelihood that sacred beliefs will be questioned. For example, once we have made up our minds about something and held the opinion for some time, we are biased in favor of not changing our minds. This is called â€œconfirmation bias.â€ Some psychologists believe that it alone is responsible for more faulty human decisions than any other human foible. Another bias is â€œauthority biasâ€ where we unconsciously screen information that may bring us into conflict with our social group or other sources of power (see Aronson, â€œThe Social Animalâ€ and Shermer, â€œWhy People Believe Weird Thingsâ€). Those youngsters in primitive times who failed to pay attention to their elders faced a higher probability of death and removal of their genes from the gene pool. Evolution thus selected for deference to authority and to the expectations of oneâ€™s social groups. This form of bias explains why members of religious groups are able to identify illogical beliefs in other religious groups but not their own.
A cognition is a piece of knowledge about an attitude, an emotion, a behaviour, a value, etc. Two cognitions are said to be dissonant (thus producing â€œcognitive dissonanceâ€) if one cognition conflicts with another. For example, I like my friend, and trust him. Various cognitions relate to this. If I find out that my friend has lied to me, other cognitions form that are dissonant with those I already hold. Cognitive dissonance is the term used to describe the resulting unpleasant mental state, which most humans immediately attempt to relieve themselves of much as they look for water when thirsty.
If two cognitions are dissonant, we tend to change one or both to make them consistent with each other. This often results in what is sometimes called â€œdenialâ€ â€“ the suppression or unrealistic appraisal of evidence in an effort to reduce cognitive dissonance. Denial is, by definition, invisible to the person or group that is subject to it, but often easily visible to outsiders. The pattern I noted above of insiders being â€œirrationalâ€ but only with regard to beliefs and evidence related to the most sacred belief, suggests the widespread denial caused by cognitive dissonance. Another well known example of cognitive dissonance induced denial is that of the wife who husband is â€œcheatingâ€ on her, and while many friends and family have seen enough evidence to feel fairly confident that they understand what is going on, the faithful wife refuses to acknowledge the possibility even when the evidence is placed before her by well meaning friends. In this case, the dissonant cognitions are between the man who expresseshis love for her, and her dependence on him in various ways as a result of the life they have built together, and the evidence that suggests that that same man is being sexually unfaithful to her. The more she fears the consequence of the second cognition, the blinder she is likely to be to evidence supporting it.
I visualize the process of overcoming cognitive dissonance as an old fashioned set of scales, like the scales of justice. Disconfirming experience and evidence has to be piled on the side of our scales opposite sacred belief until they begin to tip. That is, we have to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make us finally question the reality we have assumed to exist. The epiphany experience many people have as they leave a controlling religious faith is related to what happens when we reach the “tipping point” on our scale. Then, suddenly, it is as if a switch were thrown and we can see all kinds of things that have been building up just out of view as a result of the work our mind has been doing to keep us in denial. Suddenly, much of this information and insight is released into the conscious mind because the unconscious can no longer hold it back. It is as if the lights suddenly came on. This experience changes many people irrevocably and, apparently, suddenly. However, it is often the effect of manyyears of accumulating information and work done by the unconscious mind to prepare us for an epiphany that would otherwise have been too much for our minds to bear.
The way in which storytelling and the unquestionable, or even invisible, premises they create control our perception of reality has helped me to understand my inability for many adult years to “see” things that are now so obvious about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. I was like the cats raised who could not see table legs or the pygmies who thought animals grazing on a distant plain were seeing miniature animals. I was in denial as a result of cognitive dissonance related to the image of Joseph Smith as a humble, inspired prophet of God on which I had been raised from childhood.
When Joseph Smith declared the Book of Mormon the â€œkeystone of our religionâ€, he said much more than he knew. He, without knowing it, invoked all I have just summarized and much more. And at the base of this lies the power of narrative which he well understood as a result of his history as a treasure seeker, as describe more fully below.
It is my view that Joseph Smith understood that his narrative of the Book of Mormonâ€™s divine origins would, if accepted, give him the right to speak with Godâ€™s voice as far as all who believed him were concerned. That is, his narrative of how the Book of Mormon came into being would give him tremendous personal power. The modern Mormon leadership understands that as well. They have inherited Joseph Smithâ€™s power, and amplified it in many ways by the selective telling of his story. Their power depends directly how many people believe the story they now tell about Joseph Smith and how the Book of Mormon came into being.
Scientific and historical inquiry largely related to pattern identification. Each piece of evidence or data either fits, or does not, into a particular pattern. Patterns are expressed as hypotheses, such as â€œthe Book of Mormon is real historyâ€ or â€œJoseph Smith was authorized by God to speak on His behalfâ€. The objective of the scientist or historian is to uncover as much evidence as possible relevant to a hypothesis, and assess whether the pattern disclosed by the evidence matches, or does not match, the hypothesis. The role of the confirmation bias, authority bias, other biases, and cognitive dissonance have been extensively studied in the scientific and historian communities, and are shown to exert powerful distorting influences there. Hence, the reliance on peer review and other communal mechanism within the scientific and historian communities that over time are believed to be out best bet at cancelling out these distortions that afflict all individual humans.
People who feel impelled to â€œproveâ€ that their group is â€œrightâ€ or has â€œthe truthâ€ (often called â€œapologistsâ€) tend to start with a hypothesis that says that a certain pattern (or hypothesis, such as the two set out above) must be â€œtrueâ€, and then look for evidence to support their position. Every ideology with which I am familiar has its apologists. Think for example of the Holocuast deniers, communists, all religionists, various breeds of economist, various breeds of ecologist, etc.
I have found books like Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things”, Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” and Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”, to be helpful in understanding the apologetic mindset in general. In particular, Shermer’s final chapter in the second edition of his book (“Why Smart People Believe Weird Things”) is insightful when it comes to understanding the smartest or best credentialed of the apologists. You can find, for example, very smart and well educated holocaust deniers, young earth creationists, JWs, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc.
In a nutshell, if you are working with a large enough database, you can find bits and pieces of information to support almost any conclusion you wish to draw. Shermer and Taleb both cite great examples in this regard. This is one of the traps laid for us by “deductive” reasoning. Deductive reasoning causes us to work from a hypothesis (“The Book of Mormon is real history”) back into the data to see if we can prove or disprove the hypothesis. If we are influenced by things like the confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance etc., we will tend to find data that confirms the hypothesis, and miss or dismiss the disconfirming data.
Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, involves starting without a hypothesis, digesting as much relevant data as possible and seeing what kind of picture emerges. Most science and history related to complex questions (such as why any particular human culture is as it is) start out using induction, and then forms and begins to test hypotheses using deductive reasoning, and from there on goes back and forth between the two. Apologists tend to remain in deductive mode, looking for any data that might support their cherished hypotheses, the hypotheses that “must be true” in order for their social world to continue to exist.
A common tactic of apologists since at least the ancient Greeks (see for example http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.apologetic%20mind.pdf) is to emphasize the uncertainty of all â€œknowledgeâ€ and then to insist that, for really important things like religious beliefs, a high level of certainty is required before a change in belief is warranted. They hence set the bar of proof so high that practically speaking it is impossible to clear.
I do not suggest that all I have just written about apologists applies to *, but some surely does as it does to me on the other side of the coin. We are all best off acknowledging that we are subject to biases, cognitive dissonance etc. and relying heavily on the most â€œobjectiveâ€ sources to which we have access particularly when dealing with issues that fire up the emotional centers in our brain, such as evidence that questions our most basic religious and social beliefs. In that regard, the conclusions of non-Mormon scholars with regard to questions relating to science and history critical to Mormon foundations is most likely the most reliable you can find. Mormons would admit this to be the case with regard to every religion except their own, and would tend to dismiss any criticism of their faith by outsiders on the basis that one can only understand through faith. Not coincidentally, this is a near universal pattern among religious believers of all faiths when defending their own beliefs.
In any event, I wish you well in your research.
All the best,