Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: The Book of Mormon witnesses and the 'problems' of eyewitness testimony’

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Published: Thursday, May 22 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

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New Albany, OH

I was just reading their testimonies this past weekend. It impresses me that, first of all, reputation was much more valuable then than it is now. They were putting their reputations on the line saying they actually saw and hefted the plates. And second, they gained nothing for doing that, and certainly knew their names would be added to the scorned, mocked and persecuted.

Imagine the Book of Mormon really is a hoax... it's actually an interesting meditation to wrap your head around... and then try to reason why those witnesses would have added their names to the hoax. Money? No. A joke to laugh about later? No. A prank on Joseph? Turns out no. They knew their names would go down in history as personal witnesses of a scorned book. "Scholars" can try to dismiss their testimonies, but there is nothing scholarly in that reasoning.

Carson City, NV

The witness statements of these three men are quite different than the "eye witness" testimony given at trial. First the witness statement was made very close to the time the event happened. So memory wasn't faded. Second, we tend to remember differently if we were under tramatic stress than if we are just seeing something, feeling it and with people we know and trust. It's sort of hard to imagine that you handled gold plates if you did not. In addition, these witnesses had already seen the ridicule and torment that Joseph Smith had been through. They didn't have to be witnesses. Oh, but yes they did, God wanted them to be. Many times the people God has called have had to endure skeptics, nay sayers and Satan. This won't stop until Satan is bound. Put yourself in their place, why would you say this under these circumstances if it were not true? I love this church because the teachings are so clear and simple.

Far East USA, SC

Mr Peterson,

Certainly one would have to admit that in a court of law, the cross examination of virtually all of these witnesses would, at a minimum, cast reasonable doubt as to their credibility. This is not to say that their stories would be unconditionally refuted, but that many said and/or did things which would cast some doubt on the credibility of their "testimony".

Couple of examples

"spiritual eyes" vs natural eyes
How many actually saw and touched physical plates that were not covered? Why would there be a need to cover plates in cloth

Sandy, UT

I believe your article reacts and speaks more of a member of the LDS faith who seems to be defending the reputation of the faith. I am not comparing you to Beck, Hannity or Limbaugh, however as they do, you seemt o be speaking to a select few. Those who share you ideas. It is almost like when the Church suggested the DNA of Native Americans did not line up with the DNA of the Jewish linage because DNA changes ofr the decades or centuries.I have heard of the eyewitness problems but I have never heard it referred to in the witness testemonies you are soeaking about. Therefore I would think that the average person who heard the stories, and who were not LDS, would either just say, "I don't believe this' or "each to his own".

Sandy, UT

As with any person who sees or believes they witnessed something great, these men could have also embellished slightly for 'drama'. I don't discount them. I once, honest this did happen, saw a flying saucer and I once spoke to a deceased friend. Whether anyone believes me or not I don't care. I also do not see the need to prove what is in my heart and mind, to anyone.

The Wraith
Kaysville, UT

This article doesn't address that actual problems with the witnesses. Yes eye witness testimony is notoriously problematic but I don't think that has much impact on the BofM witnesses. The real issue is that the statement the witnesses signed was not written by them and more importantly that the witnesses would later say they saw the plates through a "second sight" or with "spiritual eyes".

The witness statements are one more example of how the Church paints a picture to it's members that these witnesses had an experience where they literally and physically held and saw the plates. That's what the statements say however. Yet the Church also does it's best to suppress all the statements the witnesses left behind where they make clear their viewing of the plates was through a spiritual prism and not a rational, real world experience.

Apologists will no doubt scoff at the issues I have presented here but for people like who have a skeptical, rational worldview this is a serious issue. This article doesn't address any of these points and they are far more troublesome than the ones it does address.

Clearfield, UT

One sentence X is said to be a logical consequence of a set K of sentences, if and only if, in virtue of logic alone, it is impossible for all the sentences in the set to be true without X being true as well.

The "logical consequence" of the Prophet Joseph Smith's First Vision (and the witnesses testimony of the Book of Mormon) is 'all' the fruits that have been produced as a result. Without doubt, the most logical consequence is the opposition-always the majority, that has sprouted by purposeful and flagrant ignorance of trying to debate away the reality of X-The First Vision/the witnesses testimony of the Book of Mormon, and God's promise James 1:3-5, verse 8 is also a compelling thought.

Free Agency
Salt Lake City, UT

It always amazes me how "people of faith" (of whatever religion) keep trying to prove that their faith is true. The fact is, faith *can't* be proven--that's why it's called faith. If you could prove it, it wouldn't be faith, but fact.

We all have faith in something; it gives us an orientation toward life. And the faith of many of us sustains us through the ups and downs of life. Additionally, at least in my case (I'm spiritual but not religious), the more I have faith in something, the more it "comes true" in my experiences.

But I never try to prove that it's factually true. I couldn't, even if I tried, since it's "supernatural." But I don't even want to try. I know the difference between faith and facts, and both are equally valuable to me.

In short, I don't try to have my cake and eat it: convince myself (and others) that my faith is "true," yet still call it my faith. My faith is far too valuable to me to ever risk losing it by proving it's true, and thus losing it as faith.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

"....in the cases of Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, with several other artifacts, as well as with an angel and the voice of God — were first told, and first reduced to writing, shortly after the encounters took place...."

Had there been much of a time elapse between witnessing and attesting, the ‘witnesses’ might never have signed a statement, one that was very likely already prepared for their signatures. Time for reflection allows a man to think twice. I don’t make much of the fact that they never denied their testimonies. It’s not easy for a man who prizes the respect of his fellow man to have to confess that he had the wool pulled over his eyes.

sandy, ut

The most problematic part of the testimony of the witnesses for me has been that they did not see the plates, they only saw them in vision. It has never made sense. Joseph Smith supposedly had the plates already sitting in his home. Instead of showing them to the witnesses like anybody would show a physical item to somebody else, he took them out to a field to pray to be able to see them in vision. This is the single most damaging piece of evidence against the witnesses. Why in the world would they need to go out into a field to pray to see the plates? Answer: they wouldn't. The statement in front of the book of mormon makes it seem like Joseph gathered them all, brought out the plates, let them touch and handle them. But that was not the case. You would not need a spiritual vision to view real, physical, metal plates. Furthermore, why would the plates always be covered during translation? Even when it was one of the 3 witnesses (who already saw the plates) translating for him, he still had them covered... Rather odd.

Winchester, VA

I my youth while studying the Church, I read a lot about spiritualism. Joseph Smith commented that such things can happen, but they are not of God, rather of individuals trying to reach back through the vale with their own motives. What struck me was that for such a spiritualism experience you needed darkness, and coolness. Houdini proved many but not all to be frauds. His own message from beyond the grave given in code for authentication was simply "believe". My point is that God's appearance above the brightness of the noon day sun, was no parlor trick. Likewise, many have said they have had a revelation from God. None have presented anything like unto the Book of Mormon and it's witnesses. We have something very unique and very powerful. Judaism grew out of a miraculous exodus from the world's most powerful tyrant, Christianity from the miracle of the resurrection, and the Latter-Day Saints from the miracle of the Book of Mormon. These religions endure where the others fade.

sandy, ut

Not to mention the absence of the plates. I think that is just a little bit too convenient for me to reconcile.

Provo, Ut

First things first - the "witnesses" never actually gave their "testimonies". What they did was collectively sign a single affidavit that had been prepared for them. The various statements made by the witnesses after the event, including David Whitmers an Address to All Believers in Christ, are enough to raise questions about the consistency. Secondly, the conditions of the "witnesses" experience just doesn't pass the gut test. Granted, this isn't a logically rigorous critique...but it's still enough to raise reasonable suspicion.

1) Why not three individually written statements?
2) Spiritual sight - creates ambiguity. Why was this required?
3) Plates held under cloth? What was this all about? In other words, the actual conditions and circumstances of the witness experience - particularly for the 8 - aren't even very clear. What did they see exactly, what were the experiences? The testimony's don't offer any real detail - "let it be known that the plates exist because we sort of touched them and saw them one day".
4) Why only eleven mostly related witnesses? Why was God so bent on this seemingly parlor-trick-esque method of "testimony?

There is more than enough reason to be suspicious.

Provo, Ut

All the pseudo-intellectual wrangling over the plausibility of the witnesses credibility is a smoke screen against what I would call practical logic. It's this simple. Even if you could make the witnesses account plausible, the fact is no one would accept the standard of evidence provided by the witnesses if the basis of argument was to support an ordinary claim. It follows then that they aren't even playing in the same ball park as what would be required to provide any practical support for the extraordinary claim about Angels and the Gold Plates.

Daughter of God
slc, UT

If they don't believe in the Book of Mormon, then why are they trying to disprove it?

G L W8

"my thoughts are not your thoughts" Isaiah 55:8. Read the whole chapter. There is much in it to learn about this question.
Certainly, the Lord could prove the existence of the plates by allowing them to be shown to more witnesses. But he didn't. Certainly, the Lord could show he exists by a personal visit to all of us instead of working through prophets. But he doesn't.
The central question is: why are we in this mortal life to begin with? Chance? To prove ourselves? Non-believers cannot prove the first without extrapolating conclusions into the far distant past from facts discovered by scientific research in the last few centuries. Archaeological and age of the earth data aside, no one has a time machine that allows for direct, empirical experience in bygone eras. Believers cannot prove the second; we use subjective evidences to enhance our faith. It all comes down to what we’re willing to accept as truth. That leaves the door open for faith on all fronts.


The most impressive thing about the Book of Mormon witnesses is that even though several (if not most) of them were ultimately excommunicated from the Church, none of them ever denied what they had seen. It seems to me that, if they really were all part of some sort of elaborate conspiracy by Joseph Smith to fabricate the basis for a new religion (for what purpose no one can really explain, since the Church brought little profit and much hardship to those who were responsible for establishing it), once they had parted ways with Joseph they would have admitted that the whole thing was a hoax and gone on to restore their respectability in the eyes of the public. But this is not what happened—as much as Joseph himself may have fallen out of their favor, they refused to insult God by denying the revelation they had received. That, in conjunction with the consistency of their statements, says it all.

Oh Really?

The 8 witnesses physically held the plates in their hands:

"has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands;"

"Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it."

Draper, UT

Very interesting article and even more interesting comments. IMO, neither really matters. The bottom line for me is whether or not an individual him/herself...in and of him/herself... believes in or adheres to any religious or "spiritual" doctrine or event. While the experience, opinion or "witness" of another person may be somewhat helpful, in the final analysis it will not convince anyone of either truth or boondoggle in things related to religion.

Oh Really?

The Eight Witnesses were given a physical experience -- shown the plates by Joseph and hefting them in their hands. The Three Witnesses were shown the plates by an angel, which is evidence of the divine nature of the work of translation:

"we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record ... we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. "

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