Detailed response to CES Letter, Witnesses

FAIR Answers Wiki Main Page

Detailed response to CES Letter, Witnesses



A FAIR Analysis of: [[../|Letter to a CES Director]], a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter witnesses.png

Response to section "Witnesses Concerns & Questions"

Summary: Regarding the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, the author states, "At the end of the day? It all doesn’t matter. The Book of Mormon Witnesses and their testimonies of the gold plates are irrelevant. It does not matter whether eleven 19th century treasure diggers with magical worldviews saw some gold plates or not. It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon."


Jump to Subtopic:

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith, his father, and his brother (Hyrum) had a family business treasure hunting from 1820 – 1827"

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

Joseph Smith, his father, and his brother (Hyrum) had a family business treasure hunting from 1820 – 1827

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

Joseph Smith and some of his family members did participate in treasure hunting activities, but it wasn't the "family business."


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Joseph was hired by folks like Josiah Stowell, who Joseph mentions in his history"

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

Joseph was hired by folks like Josiah Stowell [to search for treasure], who Joseph mentions in his history

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

This is correct. Stowell hired Joseph to help him search for an ancient mine.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "In 1826, Joseph was arrested and brought to court in Bainbridge, New York, for trial on fraud"

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

In 1826, Joseph was arrested and brought to court in Bainbridge, New York, for trial on fraud. He was arrested on the complaint of Stowell’s nephew who accused Joseph of being a “disorderly person and an imposter”

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

  • It is correct that Joseph was brought before a judge for a preliminary hearing by relatives of Josiah Stowell, because they thought that Joseph was defrauding him. The charge was that of being being a "disorderly person."
  • However, it was not a trial, but rather a preliminary hearing and no verdict was possible as a result of the hearing.
  • There was no decision made to proceed to trial, and Joseph was released.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "21st century Mormons...are so confused and bewildered when hearing stuff like Joseph Smith using a peep stone in a hat"

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

This is one of the reasons why 21st century Mormons, once including myself, are so confused and bewildered when hearing stuff like Joseph Smith using a peep stone in a hat or Oliver Cowdery using a divining rod or dowsing rod

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 author was perfectly fine as a 21st century Mormon when he believed that Joseph used two seer stones mounted in a frame shaped like a "figure eight" to convert "reformed Egyptian" characters into English, but confused by the stone and the hat.

Logical Fallacy: Inconsistency—The author applies contradictory standards, depending upon which group he is addressing.

21st century Mormons believe that Joseph translated using two seer stones mounted in a metal frame, but have problems with the idea that he used a single seer stone placed in a hat.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "If Oliver Cowdery’s gift was really a divining rod then this tells us that the origins of the Church are much more involved in folk magic and superstition"

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

If Oliver Cowdery’s gift was really a divining rod then this tells us that the origins of the Church are much more involved in folk magic and superstition than we’ve been led to believe by the LDS Church’s whitewashing of its origins and history.

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

Actually, all that this tells us is that Joseph and Oliver believed in "folk magic" prior to the organization of the Church. Such beliefs were superseded relatively quickly after the Church was organized, with Joseph ultimately giving Oliver his seer stone because he didn't need it any longer.

Logical Fallacy: False Cause—The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "who all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging"

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

We are told that the witnesses never disavowed their testimonies, but we have not come to know these men or investigated what else they said about their experiences. They are 11 individuals: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. – who all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging – which is what drew them together in 1829.

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

A "common worldview of second sight, magic and treasure digging" is not what drew the Witnesses together in 1829. These men, regardless of whatever beliefs they had in folk magic, were successful and respected in their community.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness"

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

Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Martin Harris was absolutely skeptical. He required confirmation, which he received from Charles Anthon.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "he was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man

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

[Martin Harris] was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man.

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

This is the danger of uncritically copying information off Wikipedia. In this case, information about Martin being a successful and respected member of the community is minimized, and his superstitious qualities emphasized.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times"

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

Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times.

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

This is an old charge from one of the earliest anti-Mormon works, and the evidence does not support it.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

Such a charge is simply ad hominem—to deny Harris' testimony because of beliefs he had prior to the restoration.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects"

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

Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects

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 fact that Martin joined other sects before he eventually returned to the Church has no bearing upon his testimony of the Book of Mormon, which he reiterated throughout his life.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: Martin Harris “declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon”

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

It has been reported that Martin Harris “declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon”

Author's sources:
  1. The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173

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

We do not know whether the Kirtland Mormons heard Martin Harris say this, or whether they heard it secondhand: The statement does not fit Martin's other numerous statements.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: Martin Harris "had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them"

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

Martin Harris:“…he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them…” – Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2....There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them”...If these witnesses literally really saw the plates like everyone else on the planet sees tangible objects…why strange statements like, “I never saw them only as I see a city through a mountain”? What does that even mean? I’ve never seen a city through a mountain. Have you?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Martin's statement about handling the plates in a box or when they were covered by a handkerchief is referring to the period of time during the translation of the Book of Mormon, before Martin became one of the three witnesses.


Source(s) to Consider:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith"

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

Martin Harris: “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

– Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying...that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “saw them with a spiritual eye”.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author selectively focuses on a few reported quotes in which Martin mentioned "spiritual eyes," and ignores the multitude of quotes in which Martin said straight out that he saw the angel and handled the plates with his hands.

Logical Fallacy: Texas Sharpshooter—The author located some pattern in the data that he or she believes was the cause of something else, despite the lack of any supporting connection, and asserted that this was, in fact, the actual cause.

Why does the author only focus on statements which do not fit with the majority of the statements that Martin gave about seeing the plates?


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer 'yes'?"

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

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” – EMD 2:548....Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer “yes”?"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author asks why Martin didn't simply answer "yes." Just how much clearer than saying "I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel" or "Just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates," must Martin be?


Source(s) to consider:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Whitmer responded that the angel 'had no appearance or shape'"

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

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked [by John Murphy] for a description of the angel who showed him the plates. Whitmer responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. – Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author fails to note that Whitmer was very upset about the way that John Murphy had portrayed his testimony and witness, and that Whitmer published a rebuttal to Murphy's claim.

Logical Fallacy: Genetic—The author determines whether something is truthful or false on the basis of who said it.

  • The author uncritically accepts John Murphy's account of what Whitmer said because it is in accordance with what the author believes to be true.
  • The author completely ignores Whitmer's published rebuttal to what Murphy claimed that he said, because he doesn't believe Whitmer is telling the truth.

Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "James Henry Moyle...went away 'not fully satisfied...It was more spiritual than I anticipated'"

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

A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. "His answer was uneuqivocal...that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness." But Moyle went away "not fully satisfied...It was more spiritual than I anticipated." — Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, EMD 5:141

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author ignores information from the same source that explicitly contradicts his interpretation.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

The author creates a strawman by excluding portions of Moyle's statement in order to make it appear to support his own position. The following statements from Moyle come from the same source used by the author of the CES Letter (EMD 5:142-143):
  • Moyle: "He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated."
  • Moyle: "I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, 'No.'"

Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "As scribe for the Book of Mormon and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness"

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

Oliver Cowdery was not an objective and independent witness. As scribe for the Book of Mormon and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness.

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

Why? Putting aside the fact that Joseph and Oliver were distantly related and had never met one another, why is being a cousin or a scribe a "conflict of interest?" This is simply propaganda.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

How does being one's cousin relate to the ability of Oliver to be a witness? For example, is the author implying that being related to someone disqualifies them from testifying on matters related to their relative in court?


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock"

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

William Smith said, with regard to the gold plates, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock.” – EMD 1:497 (April 2013 revision)
This claim was subsequently retracted by the author of the CES Letter. (October 2014 revision)

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is a common claim among critics of the Church. What they do not say is that this was a description from William Smith, Joseph's brother, who was not one of the Three or Eight witnesses. He is simply describing what happened when Joseph brought the plates home.

Logical Fallacy: Bandwagon (Appeal to the Masses)—The author believes that this claim is true simply because all of his or her buddies believe that it is true, despite the lack of actual evidence supporting it.

The author removed this incorrect claim from subsequent versions of his letter. Why didn't he examine the sources himself before he made this claim? Because it is easier to simply copy other anti-Mormon sources than to do real research.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: James Strang and the Voree Plates Witnesses

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

Every single living Book of Mormon witness besides Oliver Cowdery accepted Strang’s prophetic claim of being Joseph’s true successor and joined him and his church. Additionally, every single member of Joseph Smith’s family except for Hyrum’s widow also endorsed, joined, and sustained James Strang as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”. What does this say about the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses if they were so easily duped by James Strang and his claims of being a prophet called of God to bring forth new scripture from ancient plates only to later turn out to be a fraud?....James Strang’s claims and Voree Plates Witnesses are distinctive and more impressive compared to the Book of Mormon Witnesses" and that none of Strang's witnesses recanted "even after they were excommunicated from the church and estranged from Strang.

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

Every Latter-day Saint knows that all three of the Three Witnesses left the Church due to disagreements with Joseph Smith and the belief that he was a fallen prophet, yet they still believed in the Book of Mormon. So they were searching for a replacement, and after years of searching, Oliver and Martin returned to the Church. Is the author implying that these men still had the spirit of discernment after they were excommunicated?


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting"

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

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery. Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting...


According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures. Since there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of the witnesses, the only real testimonies we have from the witnesses are later interviews given by them and eyewitness accounts/affidavits made by others, as shown previously....From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law...

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author demonstrates no understanding of the two Book of Mormon manuscripts that were created. The "Printers manuscript" that he is referring to is the second manuscript that was transcribed by Oliver Cowdery, the pages of which were carried to the printer so that the original would not be lost. Of course everything in the Printer's Manuscript was in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. The original manuscript was mostly destroyed by water damage, and the section containing the original signatures was lost. As blatantly wrong as the author's understanding of this issue is--let's say hypothetically that Oliver meant to just place names on the document for a type of fake persuasiveness. The author won't be able to explain why it is that none of the eight witnesses called him out on it nor did they ever deny the testimony as published in the Book of Mormon.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"

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

Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon... (April 2013 revision)
Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon... (October 2014 revision)
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists"
Response to claim: "God Himself spoke to Whitmer 'by his own voice from the heavens' in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

David Whitmer, when asked directly if the witnesses signed their own names, stated that the Three Witnesses had each signed the original document.

Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading—The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

  • Original claim made by the author: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"
    This claim was proven false, since David Whitmer stated that all of the witnesses signed the original manuscript.
  • New claim made by the author: "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"

Thus, the "goal post" has been moved by the author.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists"

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:

FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists. We do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We just have a document, in Oliver’s own handwriting, of the names of the Witnesses. We have a claim that there was a document of actual signatures and a claim that this document was “placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House” and that it was “destroyed by water damage” years later.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

There isn't a claim that the original manuscript was destroyed by water damage: The remnants of the manuscript exist and the damage is confirmed as historical fact. Only 28 percent of the original manuscript exists, and it does not include the signature section. However, David Whitmer stated, "Yes, we each signed his own name." He later affirmed that he agreed with his testimony "as published."


The author then attempts to discredit Whitmer by using his statement from An Address to All Believers in Christ: "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.’" However, as stated in the subsequent section, this message came to Whitmer after he had already been excommunicated, and there was a possibility that he could have been harmed. We have no problem accepting the idea that God told Whitmer to leave the area in order to preserve one of the Book of Mormon witnesses so that he could continue to testify.

Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading—The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

Here are the author's original claims:
  • 1. That on the Printer's Manuscript "Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting....According to the above manuscript that Oliver took to the printer for the Book of Mormon, they were not signatures."
  • 2. That "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon."
  • 3. That "there is no evidence of any document whatsoever with the signatures of the witnesses."

However,

  • 1. The author conceded claim #1 as being irrelevant: The Printer's manuscript would obviously be in Oliver's handwriting, since he copied everything (including signatures) from the Original manuscript.
  • 2. The author conceded claim #2 as being incorrect in the October 2014 revision, since he learned that David Whitmer said directly that the witnesses signed individually. Thus he modified his statement to read, "there is no testimony from any of the witnesses, with the exception of David Whitmer, directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon"
  • 3. Since claims #1 and #2 were proven to be invalid, the author had to "move the goalpost" by asserting that claim #3 was actually his original "point": "FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists".

Logical Fallacy: Genetic—The author determines whether something is truthful or false on the basis of who said it.

After publishing his original Letter, the author learned that the section of the Original manuscript containing the signatures was destroyed. The author tries to cast doubt upon the validity of this data because it was FairMormon that brought it to his attention: According to the author, FairMormon is said to have made a "claim" that the manuscript was damaged by water and a "claim" that is was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. However, the author could have easily verified that these "claims" are actually historical facts. The section containing the signatures on the Original manuscript was indeed destroyed.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "God Himself spoke to Whitmer 'by his own voice from the heavens' in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church"

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:

If David Whitmer is a credible witness, why are we only using his testimony of the Book of Mormon while ignoring his other testimony claiming that God Himself spoke to Whitmer “by his own voice from the heavens” in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church? FAIR must admit that Whitmer was less than credible on this occasion. Why couldn’t he have been less than credible when he testified of the Book of Mormon?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Actually, FairMormon doesn't have any problem believing that God told Whitmer to leave Far West. The author misinterprets the sources, however, when he assumes that Whitmer is saying that God told him to leave the Church. Whitmer had been excommunicated well before God told him to leave.

Logical Fallacy: False Cause—The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.

The author claims that Whitmer said that God told him to leave the "one and only true church," and that he subsequently acted upon that. However, Whitmer had been excommunicated from the Church prior to hearing the voice of God telling him to leave.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer"

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

the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer.
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons...Hardly unbiased and neutral"

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

How does being related to someone make them dishonest? The author needs to look up the definition of "Argumentum Ad Hominem".

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

Simply being related to someone does not have anything to do with that person's reliability or honesty.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons...Hardly unbiased and neutral"

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:

Indeed, is it easier to run a scam or fraud with two well-connected families or with 11 independent and unrelated individuals? We’re not just talking about two well-connected families. We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons who prior to this event already held a belief in the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s calling as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Hardly unbiased and neutral.

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 author simply reasserts his previous claim that the fact that many of these individuals both believers and were related indicates that they were dishonest and that they were in on the "scam or fraud."

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

The author cites Mark Twain's humorous line, "I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified," which is simply another instance of "Argumentum Ad Hominem."


[Back to top]

Response to claim: "the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer"

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

the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer.
See also the followup(s) to this claim from "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (20 July 2014 revision):
Response to claim: "We’re talking about two families which consisted of all believing Mormons...Hardly unbiased and neutral"

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

How does being related to someone make them dishonest? The author needs to look up the definition of "Argumentum Ad Hominem".


[Back to top]

Response to claim: "The Shakers and Ann Lee"

The author(s) of CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts (October 2017) make(s) the following claim:

The Shakers felt that “Christ has made his second appearance on earth, in a chosen female known by the name of Ann Lee, and acknowledged by us as our Blessed Mother in the work of redemption." The Shakers had a sacred book entitled A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth. More than 60 individuals gave testimony to the Sacred Roll and Book, which was published in 1843. Although not all of them mention angels appearing, some of them tell of many angels visiting them. One woman told of eight different visions.


Here is the testimony statement (page 304 of Sacred Roll and Book):

We, the undersigned, hereby testify, that we saw the holy Angel standing upon the house-top, as mentioned in the foregoing declaration, holding the Roll and Book.

BETSEY BOOTHE.

LOUISA CHAMBERLAIN.

CATY DE WITT.

LAURA ANN JACOBS.

SARAH MARIA LEWIS.

SARAH ANN SPENCER.

LUCINDA MCDONIELS.

MARIA HEDRICK.

Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to see an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Sacred Roll and Book. There are over a hundred pages of testimony from “Living Witnesses"...

Why should we believe the Book of Mormon Witnesses but not the Shakers witnesses?

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 Shaker witnesses do not compare to the Book of Mormon Witnesses for the fact that the Roll and Book fell into discredit and dishonor among Shakers and was abandoned by most leaders and believers. Noted here is that the author copy/pasted a quote from the anti-Mormon website MormonThink here without attribution to MormonThink (MormonThink quoting the anti-Mormon website Christian Defense and Christian Defense quoting Gerald and Sandra Tanner's anti-Mormon book Mormonism: Shadow or Reality). Plagiarism is only a sin when Joseph Smith is doing it, apparently. Screenshots below from the CES Letter, MormonThink, Christian Defense, and the Utah Lighthouse Ministry to prove our point.

Logical Fallacy: False Equivalency—The author is drawing an equivalence between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning.

CES Letter pp. 107–08. Click to enlarge.
Screenshot from MormonThink page on the Book of Mormon witnesses. Click to enlarge.
Screenshot from Christian Defense on the Book of Mormon Witnesses. Click to enlarge.
Screenshot from Utah Lighthouse Mission Website on the Book of Mormon Witnesses. Click to enlarge.



















































Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men"

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

The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical-thinking men they were. (April 2013)
The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical thinking, superstitious, and treasure digging men they were. (October 2013)

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 arrogance on the part of the author of assuming that 21st century men are somehow more "empirical" or "rational" than 19th century men is astounding.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem—The author attacks someone's personal characteristics in an attempt to undermine their argument or position.

∗       ∗       ∗
It seems implausible to assume that the witnesses, early nineteenth-century farmers who spent their lives rising at sunrise, pulling up stumps, clearing rocks, plowing fields, sowing seeds, carefully nurturing crops, herding livestock, milking cows, digging wells, building cabins, raising barns, harvesting food, bartering, in an often cashless economy, for what they could not produce themselves, wearing clothes made from plant fibers and skins, anxiously watching the seasons, and walking or riding animals out under the weather until they retired to their beds shortly after sunset in “a world lit only by fire,” that they were estranged from everyday reality.

It’s especially unbelievable when the claim is made by people whose lives, like mine, consist to a large extent of staring at digital screens in artificially air-conditioned and artificially lit homes and offices, clothed in synthetic fibers, commuting between the two in enclosed and air-conditioned mechanical vehicles while they listen to the radio, chat on their cell phones, and fiddle with their iPods, whose inner workings are largely mysterious to them, who buy their prepackaged food (with little or no regard for the time or the season) by means of plastic cards and electronic financial transfers from artificially illuminated and air-conditioned supermarkets enmeshed in international distribution networks of which they know virtually nothing, the rhythms of whose daily lives are largely unaffected by the rising and setting of the sun. Somehow the current generation seems ill-positioned to accuse the witnesses’ generation of being out of touch with reality.

—Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," 2014 FairMormon Conference
∗       ∗       ∗

Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon"

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

It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact: Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon.

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

  • How exactly did the author believe that Joseph "used" the plates when he believed that they were translated using two stones mounted in a wire frame?
  • Joseph did indeed "use" the plates: The plates were necessary in order for witnesses to attest to the fact that the ancient record existed.


Peterson (2005): The plates "are an indigestible lump in the throats of people...who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet"

Daniel C. Peterson said:

A knowledgeable academic friend who does not believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon once asked me, since it seems that the plates were not actually necessary to the translation process and were sometimes not even present in the room, what purpose they served. I responded that I did not know, exactly, except for one thing: They are an indigestible lump in the throats of people like him who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet. If the plates really existed, somebody made them. And if no Nephites existed to make them, then either Joseph Smith, or God, or somebody else seems to have been engaged in simple fraud. The testimony of the witnesses exists, I think, to force a dichotomous choice: true or false? [1]


Longer response(s) to criticism:

[Back to top]

Response to claim: "Oliver Cowdery’s failure to expose the Priesthood restoration fraud during his excommunication proceedings and after his excommunication from the Church"

The author(s) of Debunking FairMormon - Letter to a CES Director make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery’s failure to expose the Priesthood restoration fraud during his excommunication proceedings and after his excommunication from the Church. Why not expose the fraud? Why stick with the false story? Many possible reasons exist:


1. By exposing Joseph Smith and the fraud, Oliver would likewise be exposing himself as the co-conspirator and co-founder of the Church.

2.Oliver Cowdery competed with Joseph Smith for leadership in the Church and wanted to maintain his credibility as a potential future leader among the Church membership. Indeed, Oliver remained in Far West for a few months after his excommunication (until he feared for his life and left) and was known as a “dissenter.”

3. Any person (even an honest person) hates to admit that he was flummoxed, or that he lied under oath, or that he has contributed to the deception of thousands of trusting people. It is easier and it causes less trouble by just sticking by the original story.

4.He did not want to disillusion or destroy the faith of those who were converted to the Book of Mormon because of his testimony.

5.He may have retained a special feeling and regard for the Book of Mormon because of its many Biblical passages and Christ-centered teachings.

6.Since his declaration is stated in the name of “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” he would not only be guilty of perjury, but his credibility would be suspect and ruined for the rest of his life. This is especially true for Oliver as his most important currency and asset in his careers – law and politics – was his perceived honor, integrity, and reputation with non-Mormons.

7. He enjoyed the celebrity status of being a witness and founding member of a rapidly growing religion. In time, he continued to embellish and persevere in his story.

8.Oliver would appear sinister, conniving, deceptive, and untrustworthy telling people that what he testified to and allowed to appear in print, was just one big hoax and lie. The price in loss of respect and reputation was perhaps a price Oliver was simply unwilling to pay.

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 author is using the "spaghetti defense": When critics cannot figure out how something happened, they will throw every possible explanation at it that they can in the hope that one of them will "stick to the wall."

Logical Fallacy: Burden of Proof—The author assumes that the burden of proof is not his or her responsibility, but rather the responsibility of someone else who must disprove the claim.

The author has no proof of what he is claiming, and therefore proposes a bewildering array of conflicting possibilities:
  • The author proposes that Oliver Cowdery was either a "co-conspirator" or that he was "flummoxed". In other words, Oliver knew about the "scam" or he didn't know about the "scam." The author has covered both of his bases, eliminating, of course, the possibility that Oliver was actually telling the truth.
  • The author suggests that Oliver didn't want to "destroy the faith" of those who believed in the Book of Mormon, and he himself may have had a "special feeling" for the book, despite the fact that he actually knew that it was "one big hoax and lie".
  • The author suggests that Oliver had "perceived honor, integrity, and reputation with non-Mormons," and yet was "unwilling to pay" the "price in loss of respect and reputation" by denying his testimony of the Book of Mormon.
  • Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated from the Church for, among other things, publicly accusing his "co-conspirator," Joseph Smith of adultery. And the author proposes that Oliver wanted to "maintain his credibility as a potential future leader among the Church membership".

The logic presented by the author is absurd and is an exercise in "mental gymnastics." He has to come up with some reason...any reason...to explain why Oliver was both dishonest and yet never denied his witness. The one possibility that the author never grants is that Oliver was actually telling the truth about the priesthood restoration.


[Back to top]

Brian Hales: CES Letter 50 to 65 Three Witnesses Including a Rebuttal of Dan Vogel's Claims.


[Back to top]

Brian Hales: CES Letter 50 to 65 Witnesses Continued


[Back to top]

LDS Truth Claims: The Witnesses


[Back to top]

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: Anthony Metcalf's Ten Years Before the Mast

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast and Early Mormon Documents 2:346–47"

FairMormon Response


Question: Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director take a single quote from a single source, extract two phrases from it, reverse their order, and then present them both with different citations?

The author presents two quotes and two different sources to demonstrate that Martin Harris did not actually see the gold plates and the angel Moroni

The Letter to a CES Director presents two quotes and two sources to demonstrate that Martin Harris did not actually see the gold plates and the angel Moroni:

“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” – Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71)

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” – EMD 2:346-47

The two quotes are actually derived from the same quote, and the two different sources are actually from a single source

The Letter presents these two quotes as coming from two different sources: 1) Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast and 2) Early Mormon Documents (EMD) 2:346-347. An examination of the two sources, however, demonstrates that both came from the same source. The first quote, the one attributed to Metcalf, is found in EMD 2:346. The second quote is found in EMD 2:347. The combined citation for both quotes is EMD 2:346-347. The Letter, however, only assigns this citation to the second quote. The author of the Letter also reverses the order in which the two phrases appear in the quote.

Anthony Metcalf interviewed Martin Harris in the 1873 or 1874 timeframe. Note that Metcalf considered Joseph Smith a "pretended prophet" and was therefore relating Harris's claims from a skeptical perspective. Here is the complete quote with the portions that were extracted and presented separately by the author of the Letter to a CES Director highlighted in blue:

Following is the history as related to me, including all his connections with Joseph Smith, the pretended prophet and the founder of the Mormon church: He told me all about the translating of the Book of Mormon, and said he had give $5,000 towards its publication. He said "I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. I wrote a great deal of the Book of Mormon myself, as Joseph Smith translated or spelled the words out in English. Sometimes the plates would be on a table in the room in which Smith did the translating, covered over with cloth. I was told by Joseph Smith that God would strike him dead if he attempted to look at them, and I believed it. When the time came for the three witnesses to see the plates, Joseph Smith, myself, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, went into the woods to pray. When they had all engaged in prayer, they failed at that time to see the plates or the angel who should have been on hand to exhibit them. They all believed it was because I was not good enough, or, in other words, not sufficiently sanctified. I withdrew. As soon as I had gone away, the three others saw the angel and the plates. In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates." [2]



[Back to top]

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: Stephen Burnett to Br. Johnson

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book"

FairMormon Response


Citation Abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: Stephen Burnett to Br. Johnson


Jump to Subtopic:


[Back to top]

Citation abuse in the original Letter to a CES Director: John Whitmer states that he saw the plates by a supernatural power

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308"

FairMormon Response


Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director avoid including John Whitmer's clear statement about handling the plates and only include the small portion of Whitmer's quote that supported his position?

The original Letter to a CES Director presents a quote from John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, in order to demonstrate the Whitmer did not actually see the gold plates

The original Letter to a CES Director presents the following quote from John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, in order to demonstrate the Whitmer did not actually see the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated:

“They were shown to me by a supernatural power” – History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308

The complete quote from John Whitmer actually confirms that he saw and handled the plates

This quote from John Whitmer actually confirms that he saw and handled the plates. All we have to do is look at the very same source. Whitmer states:

‘I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. I handled them;’ and he described how they were hung [on rings]

The portion extracted by the author of the Letter is highlighted in blue. The portion that he ignored is highlighted in red:

“[Theodore] Turley said, ‘Gentlemen, I presume there are men here who have heard [John] Corrill say, that Mormonism was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and inspired of God. I now call upon you, John Whitmer: you say Corrill is a moral and a good man; do you believe him when he says the Book of Mormon is true, or when he says it is not true? There are many things published that they say are true, and again turn around and say they are false.’ Whitmer asked, ‘Do you hint at me?’ Turley replied, ‘If the cap fits you, wear it; all I know is that you have published to the world that an angel did present those plates to Joseph Smith.’ Whitmer replied: ‘I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. I handled them;’ and he described how they were hung [on rings], and [said] ‘they were shown to me by a supernatural power;’ he acknowledged all.” [3]


Notes

  1. Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction—Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): xi–lxix. off-site
  2. "Martin Harris Interview with Anthony Metcalf, Circa 1873-1874," in Vogel (ed.) Early Mormon Documents 2:346-347.
  3. History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308


A FAIR Analysis of:
[[../|Letter to a CES Director]]
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
[Back to top]