Detailed response to CES Letter, Book of Mormon Translation

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Detailed response to CES Letter, Book of Mormon Translation


Chart CES Letter BoM translation.png
Image from video "Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copyright (c) 2015 Intellectual Reserve

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat for translating the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Unlike the story I’ve been taught in Sunday Schools, Priesthood, General Conferences, Seminary, EFY, Ensigns, Church history tour, Missionary Training Center, and BYU…Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat for translating the Book of Mormon.
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "Sources that I clearly demonstrate were either unofficial, extremely obscure, or not clearly educating the member and investigator about the rock in the hat translation"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph used both the Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone. After 1833, both items were referred to by the name "Urim and Thummim."


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Sources that I clearly demonstrate were either unofficial, extremely obscure, or not clearly educating the member and investigator about the rock in the hat translation"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

FairMormon removed from their webpage...most of the sources they claimed backed up their position that the Church is transparent and honest in how the Book of Mormon is translated. Sources that I clearly demonstrate were either unofficial, extremely obscure, or not clearly educating the member and investigator about the rock in the hat translation.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The falsehood: The Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, Gospel Topics on LDS.org and the Ensign are hardly "extremely obscure" or "unofficial." Is a book written by an apostle, Neal A. Maxwell, that talks of the stone and the hat "obscure" or "unofficial"? Missionaries currently teach investigators that Joseph translated using the Urim and Thummim - a term which historical records apply to both the Nephite interpreters and Joseph's own seer stone.The facts: Regardless of which instrument he used, the bottom line is that investigators are taught that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon using the "gift and power of God" with the aid of a stone.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: The rock in the hat is confirmed "in an obscure 1992 talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The rock in the hat is confirmed "in an obscure 1992 talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: How is one talk on LDS.org more "obscure" than any other?The facts: The talk has always been available on LDS.org.
President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Nelson at the Priesthood Restoration site during its dedication in 2015. The display shows a representation of the plates and the hat that were used during the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Sources to consider:

Response to claim: "he used the same 'Ouija Board' that he used in his days treasure hunting where he would put in a rock – or a peep stone – in his hat"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In other words, he used the same “Ouija Board” that he used in his days treasure hunting where he would put in a rock – or a peep stone – in his hat and put his face in the hat to tell his customers the location of buried treasure

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author wishes the reader to associate the seer stone, which he calls the "peep stone" with a "magic" Ouija Board.The facts: Neither Ouija Boards nor something similar are never mentioned in Mormon history, so this is simply an attempt to negatively influence the reader into believing that Joseph Smith was a conartist who created the Book of Mormon to satisfy lust for wealth.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Why is the Church not being honest and transparent to its members about how Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The above nine images are copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [images of Joseph looking at the plates in the open] Book of Mormon translation as it actually happened: [images of Joseph looking into a hat] Why is the Church not being honest and transparent to its members about how Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon? How am I supposed to be okay with this deception?
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "The issue here is the Church's continued displaying - still in 2014 - the incorrect, inaccurate, and deceptive art in its Conference Center, Church History Museum, Temple Square, Missionary publications, and official publications"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author simply assumes dishonesty on the part of the Church, and moves forward from that assumption. Again, this is simply an effort to negatively influence the reader.

Logical Fallacy: Loaded Question—The author asks a question that has a presumption already built into it in such a way that an answer cannot be provided without validating that presumption.

The author starts with the assertion that the Church is not being honest and allows no other possibility to explain the data.
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Here’s an illustration: A traditional view of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. Now, there are several things wrong with it, and he points to this sort of thing and says this is Church deception. Joseph didn’t have the plates with him quite often, and here is is following along with the text on the plates. Well, you know that’s not true, because the witnesses didn’t see the plates all the time, right? This can’t possibly be true. When the witnesses saw the plates it was a big deal for them, because, Joseph wasn’t just sitting there translating with the plates in front of him all the time as people wandered around and so on. But [the author of the Letter to a CES Director] says, “look, the Church is being deceptive” because it doesn’t show Joseph with his face in the hat using the seer stones. Well, my response to this partly would be “What in the world are you thinking of?” Trying to derive doctrine from illustrations? Or expecting that illustrations are going to give you the accurate picture? Here’s another one: There Joseph has the curtain between him and the scribe....This one is equally wrong. It’s not a sign of evil or deliberate conspiratorial intent. It’s just an indication that the illustrators often just don’t get it right.

—Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference.
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Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "The issue here is the Church's continued displaying - still in 2014 - the incorrect, inaccurate, and deceptive art in its Conference Center, Church History Museum, Temple Square, Missionary publications, and official publications"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The issue here is the Church's continued displaying - still in 2014 - the incorrect, inaccurate, and deceptive art in its Conference Center, Church History Museum, Temple Square, Missionary publications, and official publications.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Back when the author of the CES Letter was a believing Latter-day Saint, did he ever see a piece of Church artwork that depicted the Nephite interpreters (a.k.a. the "Urim and Thummim) in use during the translation process? Certainly not, unless he happened upon one single depiction in a 1970s edition of the Book of Mormon Reader. Otherwise, every piece of art depicting the translation process that he saw while a believing member was just as inaccurate as he claims they are now - yet Church manuals and lessons clearly indicate that the Urim and Thummim was used. So the author had no problem with clearly inaccurate artwork prior to his deconversion, but he has a problem with it now. This indicates that the issue of accuracy in Church art is simply a reflection of one's current perspective of the Church: if you are a believer, the artwork doesn't matter. On the other hand, if you are an unbeliever, it suddenly takes on importance in the arsenal of items that can be used against the Church in an effort to portray it as dishonest.


The inaccuracy of this artwork doesn't seem to bother active Church members - they know that the Urim and Thummim were used, yet they know that they aren't seeing it in the artwork. The truth is that depicting the translation instrument, whether it be the Nephite interpreters or the seer stone, would appear equally awkward, and the artists simply choose not to portray it. The "traditional" portrayal would show Joseph looking into a pair of "spectacles," while an alternate portrayal would show Joseph looking at a stone in the bottom of his hat. One is hardly more culturally "uncomfortable" than the other.

The seer stone display at the Church History Museum (2017).
Image from video "Seer Stones and the Translation of the Book of Mormon," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copyright (c) 2015 Intellectual Reserve

Longer response(s) to criticism: