My thoughts on John Dehlin’s Interview with Michael D. Coe

Yesterday John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcast interviewed for the second time Michael D. Coe, the famed Mayanist from Yale University about the Book of Mormon and its historicity. He also asked Coe about the open letter response from Dr. John Sorenson, professor emeritus of anthropology at BYU.

Dehlin’s intention was clear, he wanted Dr. Coe to disprove the Book of Mormon. Dehlin has been very vocal about the Book of Mormon not being historical and further stating that the LDS Church is dishonest about the origins of the book. Throughout the interview, Dehlin asked questions framed with the mission to discredit the LDS Church. Coe unfortunately and somewhat naively fell victim to Dehlin.

Throughout the interview, Coe repeatedly contradicted himself and often times, when presented with the evidence, either refused to look at the evidence or admitted the evidence was there but then would deny it outright.

When talking about lack of Nephite/Lamanite evidence Coe declares that the Mayan Territory “…is not unknown territory…archaeologist have combed over every square inch of this area.” Later in the interview, Dr. Coe contradicts himself when presented with the claim from Dr. Sorenson that “it would be surprising if as much as one ten-thousandth of the information potentially obtainable by studying the material remains has so far been disclosed.” He states that the reason why these sites have not been fully excavated is that it would “take a million years to excavate all of these sites…it’s impossible.”

Coe makes an argument stating that no record has been found of the Nephites and that every square inch of the territory has been searched and later completely contradicts his statements by acknowledging that Sorenson is right and the reason is that it would take too much manpower and money to excavate the sites as they should be. Furthermore, Coe admits that the LIDAR studies recently done in the area do in fact show more extensive sites and population than previously thought. So which is it? Has every inch of the territory been searched or not?

Later in the interview, Dehlin confronts Coe about Sorenson’s claims that: “there is the problem of accessing the information that does exist. I have spent considerable time searching site reports for mentions of metal objects that have been found that apparently date before the “metal curtain” of about AD 900 in Mesoamerica in the area but are conventionally ignored in discussions of the history of metallurgy. “ Coe’s response was simply he doesn’t have time to read it.

Dehlin’s bias is very clear here. He creates a straw man by stating that Sorenson and other apologist make the claim that non-LDS researchers are hiding evidence because it might validate a religious claim. This is, of course, absurd and never claimed by Sorenson but that didn’t stop Dehlin from trying to accomplish his purpose of discrediting Sorenson and other scholars he conveniently calls “apologists.”

I was disappointed in the interview and I lost a little respect for Coe. I still consider his work worthy and admirable but I wish he wouldn’t have gotten caught up in Dehlin’s narrative. Because he got caught up in the narrative he contradicted himself a lot and lost credibility in my eyes as a scholar. I blame Dehlin for leading him with straw man arguments and a false narrative that backed him into a corner so to speak.

In the end, I don’t believe that Coe or Dehlin successfully refuted Sorenson’s letter. In many occasions, Coe admitted that Sorenson was correct or that he would have to look at the data but that he was unwilling to do so because he had other things to do. Overall I was disappointed with both Dehlin and Coe.