Critiquing the Critics
Some critiques come up about my website. Here are a couple discussions regarding their views on Book of Mormon evidences, and on the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
Critique #1 - Where's the beef, er, evidence?
It is correct that there is a difference between evidence and speculation. However, anyone in archaeology will tell you that much of the search for history is to take what evidences there are and then piece together as best as possible what happened. There are still many evidences from archaeology which can't be explained by science: like why many cultures in Central America fled their towns, or how a civilization in Chile was recently found that predates the current archaeological belief of man crossing the Bering Strait.
But the LDS have shown many evidences that their beliefs are based on fact. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this Web site, there is no such thing as total proof in such a matter. So evidences must be considered, examined for relevancy, and used as best as possible to determine past truths and histories. That isn't always easy, as much of the truth may remain hidden until new evidence is uncovered.
"Science hasn't found it yet."
For example, the LDS used to be ridiculed for the Book of Mormon's claim of baptism prior to Christ's day. Yet, we find a baptism very similar to the one found in Mosiah 18 in the Dead Sea Scrolls ,and archaeologists have found fonts which may have been used for a washing ritual throughout Central and South America. These "evidences" weren't available in Joseph Smith's day, and in fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 100 years after his death!
So, when LDS scholars state that evidence hasn't been found yet, we realize that all truth of the past hasn't been found (otherwise, why do we still have archaeologists?). It is ridiculous to maintain, as the critiqued Web site does, that an honest "I don't know" answer is a non-answer.
Are there any comparisons in Biblical archaeology? Yes. Scientists scoffed at the idea of Hittites living in the Mideast during the time of Abraham. Yet in this century evidence has been found showing that Hittites did, indeed, have a large presence in certain areas of the Mideast.
Many archaeologists have called King David a myth. Yet just in the past decade two stelae and an Egyptian inscription have been found giving strong credence to his existence. And even with such evidence, there STILL is a movement among those who would discredit David's existence (see most of the past year's (1997-8) issues of Biblical Archaeological Review). Just how much evidence do naysayers require before we can consider an idea or theory plausible? I believed that King David was a historic character even before such strong evidence was found, yet at that time I had to tell naysayers, "science hasn't found it yet." And I still have to use such a statement for Moses, Abraham, Noah and Adam!
When it comes to Reinterpretation, anytime there is a translation from one language to another, there is a reinterpretation. The translation's exactness depends upon several factors including the translator's command of both languages and the semantic differences between the languages.
Semantic differences make a huge difference, for example the Inuit (Eskimo) language has 20 different words for varying types of snow. How does one translate all these types into English? Due to semantics of Hebrew and Greek, the Bible has been retranslated into dozens of English versions. Each version is similar to the others, but there are clear differences depending upon the translator's abilities and perceptions. There is an example given at the Anti-Mormon web site of the term "wine" in the Book of Mormon . It usually occurred when ancient prophets were quoting Biblical prophets. The scriptures which the Nephites had in their possession included the words of Isaiah and others which used the term "wine." This shows that such a term was at least known among the Nephites and may have been used for any alcoholic beverage. And why not? There simply isn't enough information to use it as a "proof" either way. Philological evidence shows that ancient and modern societies pick up words from other societies constantly and use them in their own mode.
The problem with understanding any text which does not come from one's own culture, is trying to understand it within the context of its own culture. The Gospel of Mark is understood to be Mark's attempt to make Christ's ministry among the Jews understandable to the Roman culture. Romans wouldn't understand many of Christ's parables which were directed to Jewish living, but they would understand the many miracles he performed. People argue today as to the meaning of Christ's term "putting a camel through the eye of a needle", and they disagree as to whether Christianity should be based upon faith alone, or whether actions must accompany faith. If we cannot totally agree as to the meanings given in a book that has been studied , researched and pondered for centuries, how can we even begin to assume that we understand all the semantics of a society which no longer exists and we aren't quite sure where they existed?
As for Parallelism: many scientists use it to understand previous societies. Modern hunter-gatherer societies are used to determine the type of lifestyle ancient hunter-gatherers may have had. Are they exactly alike? Probably not, but we can determine certain "remotely similar" activities between the two.
Reason vs Feeling and the Scientific Method
This anti-LDS site's claim that we can't "prove" the Spirit's usefulness in "proving" these things. Yet, we have within the Book of Mormon a scientific method in using the Spirit to know truth. The "feeling" which he criticizes, is actually an evidence. The problem for him, is that he hasn't realized that there is a difference between a regular feeling and what the Holy Spirit does.
The Bible tells us "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith" (Galatians 5:22), and that "when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. (John 16:13). So, if we use the Bible (which most Christians would, I hope) to establish using the Holy Spirit to learn truth, then the LDS claim is valid.
What are some of the things the Spirit has shown Joseph Smith would come? How about the Civil War, the World Wars, fall of Communism (D&C 87) and the conspiracies used by the tobacco industry today to get people smoking (D&C 89).
Even then, the Book of Mormon gives us a scientific method in which to use the Holy Ghost. Alma 32 tells us that to develop faith or to find out if something is true, we must treat it like a seed.
Alma 32: But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves--It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away. And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because ye know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good (Alma 32:27-35).Alma states that as the seed of knowledge grows, we know it is a good seed, just as we would know an apple seed is good if it sprouted. And it affects us in 3 ways: feelings (enlarge my soul), mind/intellect (enlighten my understanding) and desire for more (delicious to me). Are these not measurable? Yes they are. I can measure how such an effect has on me.
And how is this any different than any scientific experiment? A scientific experiment uses special tools. Those tools must be used properly and with a desire to know truth. I can't effectively use a microscope to study the stars and even if I use a telescope, I must know what to look for and not close my eyes. Now, I can believe an astronomer's testimony about a distant star or planet, but only when I actually see it for myself, do I have actual proof. As the author of this anti-LDS web site will probably never have a mind open enough to try Alma's test, he will probably never see the "proof."
Conclusion to Critique #1
As such, the discussion on this anti-LDS Web site neither proves nor disproves anything. It does open some good questions which LDS apologists must be willing and able to discuss, as I do in this. However, many of the arguments on the site are very open-ended and can apply to the Bible and other documents and societies, as well. Several of the things he argues against are actually used in anthropology as part of the scientific method, making his arguments non-persuasive.
Critique #2 Book of Mormon Witnesses
Here are comments concerning one of the several anti-lds Web sites discussing the Book of Mormon witnesses.
It complained that the Three Witnesses were duped by seeing the gold plates in a vision, and not in reality.
The original vision for the Three Witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and David Whitmer) was one that occurred in vision. However, Oliver Cowdery later told Brigham Young of carrying the plates with Joseph as the plates were returned to the angel Moroni.
Also there were Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon who touched and handled the plates, but did not see the angel. So, here we have two experiences: one given on a spiritual/vision level, with the voice of God witnessing to the Three Witnesses. The other was a physical witness given to the eight.
Here are the testimonies of each group so you can see the different impacts their experiences had upon them:
Testimony of the Three Witnesses:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And 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. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery David Whitmer Martin Harris
Testimony of the Eight Witnesses:
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.
Christian Whitmer Jacob Whitmer Peter Whitmer, Jun. John Whitmer
Hiram Page Joseph Smith, Sen. Hyrum Smith Samuel H. Smith
Here we see that the Three Witnesses had a spiritual experience-a vision. However, the Eight Witnesses had only a physical witness. This, in and of itself, shows the Web site to be disingenuous. It shows a portion of the truth, but not the whole story.
The fact that the experience which the Three Witnesses had occurred in two locations (first to Oliver and David, later to Martin-since he wasn't at first prepared to receive the vision) shows that the vision probably was not a deception. Also, of the Three Witnesses, ALL left the Church, with only two returning later in life (after Joseph Smith's death). Of the three, none ever denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon.
Of the Eight Witnesses, several left the Church, and of them some returned. But none denied touching and handling the gold plates. Some Anti-LDS Web sites criticize the Church for this, but the individuality of men cannot be controlled-each developed grievances with the Church, but none denied their testimonies. And given the fact that even Jesus Christ had one of his apostles (Judas Iscariot) leave him, as well as many others who had witnessed his miracles; we should not consider perfect committment by the followers a criteria for truth (otherwise Christianity also has a major problem).
Brigham Young relates a story of Oliver Cowdery as such:
Do you not know others who had manifestations almost equal to those Joseph had, but who have gone by the board? Martin Harris declared, before God and angels, that he had seen angels. Did he apostatize? Yes, though he says that the Book of Mormon is true. Oliver Cowdery also left the Church, though he never denied the Book of Mormon, not even in the wickedest days he ever saw, and came back into the Church before he died. A gentleman in Michigan said to him, when he was pleading law, "Mr. Cowdery, I see your name attached to this book; if you believe it to be true, why are you in Michigan?" The gentleman read over the names of the witnesses, and said, "Mr. Cowdery, do you believe this book?" "No, sir," replied Oliver Cowdery. "That is very well, but your name is attached to it, and you say that you saw an angel, and the plates from which this book is said to be translated, and now you say that you do not believe it. Which time was you right?" Mr. Cowdery replied, "There is my name attached to that book, and what I have there said that I saw, I know that I saw, and belief has nothing to do with it, for knowledge has swallowed up the belief that I had in the work, since I know it is true." Brigham Young in JofD 2, Pg.257 - Pg.258
Even after he left the Church, and in a court of law, Oliver never denied his testimony of what he saw. And another testimony he gave:
We see men and women leaving this people--this community. Are their judgments convinced that Mormonism" is not true? No; for they know that it is true. What did Oliver Cowdery (one of three witnesses to the Book of Mormon) say, after he had been away from the Church years and years? He saw and conversed with the angel, who showed him the plates, and he handled them. He left the Church because he lost the love of the truth; and after he had travelled alone for years, a gentleman walked into his law office and said to him, "Mr. Cowdery, what do you think of the Book of Mormon now? Do you believe that it is true?" He replied, "No, sir I do not." "Well," said the gentleman, "I thought as much; for I concluded that you had seen the folly of your ways and had resolved to renounce what you once declared to be true." "Sir, you mistake me: I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is true; I am past belief on that point, for I KNOW that it is true, as well as I know that you now sit before me." "Do you still testify that you saw an angel?" "Yes, as much as I see you now; and I know the Book of Mormon to be true." (JD, Vol.7, Pg.55, Brigham Young, June 27, 1858)Two years after Joseph's death, Oliver was in correspondence with some of the leaders of the Church discussing his concerns. He wrote:
...I have only sought, and only asked, that my character might be exonerated from those charges imputed to me the crimes of theft, forgery, etc. Those which all my former associates know to be false. I do not, I have never asked, to be excused, or exempted from an acknowledgment of any actual fault or wrong--for of these there are many, which it always was my pleasure to confess--I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit, but I ought to so be, you would be under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the lesser priesthood, and in the presence of Peter, to receive the greater, and looked down through time, and witness the effects these two must produce--you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest. (Oliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 Mar 1846 in Gunn (1962), Pg.250 - Pg.251)Here Oliver discusses more of his testimony of OTHER spiritual experiences he had had: receiving the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist and the Melchizedek Priesthood from the Apostle Peter. His desire wasn't to regain the power in the Church he had had, but to have his reputation restored, so that men would believe his testimony!
His return to the LDS Church happened at Council Bluffs, Iowa, 21 October 1848. He was asked to speak, wherein he stated:
"Friends and Brethren: My name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this church I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance; not because I was better than the rest of mankind was I called; but, to fulfill the purposes of God, he called me to a high and holy calling. I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet. It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. (Rev. xiv). It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high." (CHC vol 1, ch 11, pg 139).Here, Oliver tells us that he actually HANDLED the plates and Urim and Thummim (Interpreters) with his hands. I guess that blows this Anti-Mormon's Web page out of the water. Oliver DID handle them and never waivered in his testimony.
The other Three Witnesses were just as enduring in their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer had the following experience:
The witnesses themselves always adhered to the truth of their testimony. They never denied what they in their now celebrated testimony so solemnly affirmed. It was reported at different times during their lifetime that they had denied their testimony, and such statements are to be found in the earlier editions of such standard works as the American Encyclopaedia and in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But those statements are not true; David Whitmer, who lived to a great age, eighty-four (he died the 25th of January, 1888), specifically denied the truth of these statements, saying: "It is recorded in the American Encyclopaedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon, and that the other two witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that book. I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery nor Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. They both died reaffirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon." (CHC, Vol.1, Ch.11, Pg.145 - Pg.146)Martin Harris had an interesting experience. Several men got him drunk, hoping to test him in that condition as related by Elder Stevenson:
"Many interesting incidents were related by Martin on our journey (from Ohio to Utah in 1870), one of which I will relate. He said that on one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk, they put the following question very carefully to him: 'Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that is so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest, good farmer and neighbor of ours, but could not believe that you ever did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel when you were awake?' 'No,' said Martin, 'I do not believe it.' The anticipation of the delighted crowd at this exclamation may be imagined. But soon a different feeling prevailed, when Martin Harris, true to his trust, said, 'Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was in the brightness of day.' " (LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, vol 1, pg 271).He was rebaptized, moved to Utah and died bearing his testimony of the book of Mormon.
The Strength of Witnesses
Anyone knows that in a court of law (as the one Oliver was in) the person with the most evidence and best witnesses usually wins. Given the above witnesses, who even after leaving the Church over disagreements, never denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon; the testimony given by the Three and Eight Witnesses is literally unimpeachable.