FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins/Conclusion
Response to claims made in "Conclusion"
|Claims made in "Chapter 8: The First Vision"||
A FairMormon Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, a work by author: Grant Palmer
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: 260 - The author claims that the witnesses did not literally view the gold plates
- Response to claim: 260 - The author claims that we have reinterpreted the witnesses' testimony to be "rational, impressive and unique"
- Response to claim: 261 - The author claims that the Church's foundational stories are inaccurate
- Response to claim: 263 - In many sacrament meetings, the tendency remains to simply mention Jesus' name and then talk about other matters rather than to discuss him and his ministry
The author claims that the witnesses did not literally view the gold plates.
- Author's opinion.
The author must ignore numerous clear statements made by the witnesses in order to draw this conclusion.
Question: Did the three witnesses's experience of seeing the plates and the angel take place only in their minds?
The Three Witnesses were very explicit that they had actually seen the angel and the plates
Some critics suggest that the witnesses’ encounter with the angel and the plates took place solely in their minds. They claim that witnesses saw the angel in a “vision” and equate “vision” with imagination. To bolster this claim they generally cite two supposed quotes from Martin Harris. Supposedly Harris was once asked if he saw the plates with his “naked eyes” to which he responded, “No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”
Oliver Cowdery wrote explicitly for himself and Martin Harris when he replied, in a November 1829 letter, to questions about whether "juggling" (i.e., trickery or conjuring) could have explained what they saw:
"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye."
Critics impose their own interpretation on phrases that do not match what the witnesses reported in many separate interviews. When challenged on the very point which the critics wish to read into their statements—their literal reality—both Harris and the other witnesses were adamant that their experience was literal, real, and undeniable. As early convert William E. McLellin reported:
"D[avid] Whitmer then arose and bore testimony to having seen an Holy Angel who had made known the truth of this record to him. [A]ll these strange things I pondered in my heart."
The author claims that we have reinterpreted the witnesses' testimony to be "rational, impressive and unique."
- Author's opinion.
We have not "reinterpreted" the witnesses testimony to be anything other than what it claims to be: a statement of what the witnesses saw and experienced.
Question: What is "empirical evidence"?
"Empirical evidence" is evidence based upon observation
Merriam-Webster defines empirical as: "originating in or based on observation or experience." The Book of Mormon witnesses testified that they saw the plates, and three of them testified that they saw an angel. This is the very definition of "empirical evidence." They reported what they saw with their own eyes. This is not faith, but knowledge.
Question: Is a man unreliable because he lived in the 19th-Century?
To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of the era they lived in is a ad hominem attack
Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century during a time when "folk magic" was practiced?
- One critic of Mormonism claims "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" (The claim was modified to read "nineteenth-century men" in later revisions)
To imply that nineteenth-century men are intrinsically unreliable is both an ad hominem (an attack against the character of person making the claim, rather than the claim itself) and sets an impossible standard of evidence for the gospel inasmuch as they were the only men available as witnesses at the time. Thus the author is using a screening argument (dates of life) that can be used to exclude whatever evidence he wishes to ignore.
The following video examines all claims against the witnesses and the emergent strength of their composite testimonials.
The author claims that the Church's foundational stories are inaccurate.
- Author's opinion.
This is simply the author's own opinion.
Question: Has the Church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?
Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.
Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Problems arise when faithful members can't reconcile a perfect Savior and his church being led by imperfect people. Developing an understanding that all people, even prophets of the Lord make mistakes. Only Jesus Christ himself was perfect.
Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette rather than Manchester, as some have claimed. Situations such as this are rare, however. When the critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can rest assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by LDS scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.
The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.
Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history, yet they quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims
Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history. Yet, these very same critics quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims. This concern often rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the Church's teachings are primarily doctrinal and devotional—Church lessons are neither apologetic nor historical in scope or intent.
It is remarkable, however, how many of the issues which critics charge the Church with "suppressing" are discussed in Church publications. Various issues are listed in the subarticle below, with references to Church sources which mention them. So, has the Church been suppressing the truth? You might be surprised to find out where some of these facts are actually hidden.
Question: What are the different levels of knowledge that members may have about Church history?
There are different levels of knowledge regarding Church history
LDS professor Daniel C. Peterson describes different "levels" of knowledge that members may have with respect to Church history.
Many years ago, while a graduate student in California, I heard the late Stanley B. Kimball (a Latter-day Saint scholar who taught at Southern Illinois University and published extensively on both European and Latter-day Saint historical subjects) speak to a small group about what he termed "the three levels of Mormon history."
He called the first of these "level A." This level, he said, is the Junior Sunday School version of church history, in which Mormons always wear the white hats, nobody disagrees, no leader ever makes a mistake, and all is unambiguously clear.
"Level B," he said, is the anti-Mormon version of church history—essentially a mirror image of level A or, alternatively, level A turned on its head. On level B, everything that you thought was good and true is actually false and bad. The Mormons (or, at least, their leaders) always or almost always wear black hats, and, to the extent that everything is unambiguously clear, Mormonism is unambiguously fraudulent, bogus, deceptive, and evil. Much in the level B version of Mormonism is simply false, of course; critics of the church have often failed to distinguish themselves for their honesty or for the care with which they've treated the issues they raise. But, in more than a few instances, level B approaches to Mormonism and its past are based on problems that are more or less real.
The church, Kimball reflected, tends to teach level A history. The trouble with this is that, like someone who has been kept in a germ-free environment and is then exposed to an infectious disease, a person on level A who is exposed to any of the issues that are the fodder for level B will have little resistance and will be likely to fall.
The only hope in such a case, he continued, is to press on to what he termed "level C," which is a version of church history that remains affirmative but which also takes into account any and all legitimate points stressed by level B. Those on level C are largely impervious to infection from level B. Level B formulations simply don't impress them....
Kimball said that he and his fellow historians operate on level C, and that, on the whole, that's where he (as a professional historian) would prefer members to be. He was deeply convinced, he said, that level C was essentially like level A, except that it is more nuanced and somewhat more ambiguous. (He emphatically denied that level A is "false," or that the church "lies" in teaching it.) He acknowledged, though, that, were he himself a high-ranking church leader, he would be hesitant to take the membership as a whole to level C by means of church curriculum and instruction for the obvious reason that moving people from level A to level C entails at least some exposure to some of the elements of level B, and that such exposure will unavoidably lead some to lose their testimonies. Still, he felt that those who make it through to level C are more stable and resilient in their faith than those who remain on level A. 
Response to claim: 263 - In many sacrament meetings, the tendency remains to simply mention Jesus' name and then talk about other matters rather than to discuss him and his ministry
* Author's quote: Recently the church has reemphasized the importance of centering our worship in Christ. This is apparent at the upper levels of the church, but little has yet changed at the local level. In many sacrament meetings, the tendency remains to simply mention Jesus' name and then talk about other matters rather than to discuss him and his ministry. In our Sunday classes, the Gospels are taught for several months once every four years; the lives and teachings of modern prophets are studied each year.
- Author's opinion.
Fact checking results: This claim is falseThis is not only an absurd claim: It is utter nonsense. The author ought to know better. The central focus of the Sacrament Meeting is the administration of the sacrament itself, which represents the atonement of Christ.
Question: Do Latter-day Saints diminish the importance of Jesus Christ and His atonement?
Joseph Smith stated that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day
Joseph Smith, the founding prophet, stated that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Those appendages include the gift of the Holy Ghost, power of faith, enjoyment of the spiritual gifts, restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.  The atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the central fact of all LDS theological teaching.
B.H. Roberts: The atonement of Jesus Christ "is the very heart of the Gospel"
Almost one hundred years ago LDS historian and theologian Brigham H. Roberts wrote that the atonement
is the very heart of the Gospel from whose pulsations the streams of both spiritual and eternal physical life proceed. It is the fact which gives vitality to all things else in the Gospel. If the Atonement be not a reality then our preaching is vain; our baptisms and confirmations meaningless; the eucharist a mere mummery of words; our hope of eternal life without foundation; we are still in our sins, and we Christian men, of all men, are the most miserable. A theme that affects all this cannot fail of being important. 
Joseph F. Smith: "A man who says he does not believe in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ who professes to be a member of the Church...is not worthy of membership in the Church"
In 1917 President Joseph F. Smith delivered an official statement on principles of government in the Church, which included the following statement: "A man who says he does not believe in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ who professes to be a member of the Church…but who ignores and repudiates the doctrine of the atonement… [I say that] the man who denies that truth and who persists in his unbelief is not worthy of membership in the Church." 
Heber J. Grant: "any individual who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, has no business to be associated with The Church"
In 1924 General Conference Heber J. Grant, then President of the Church, stated that "any individual who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, has no business to be associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." 
Fourteen years later President Grant was just as emphatic: "We want it distinctly understood that we believe absolutely in Jesus Christ, that He was the Son of God, and that He did come to the earth with a divinely appointed mission to die on the cross as the Redeemer of mankind. We do not believe that He was just a 'great moral teacher,' but that He is our Redeemer."  Elder Bruce R. McConkie has stated that the "atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel." 
Brigham Young: "the moment the atonement of the Savior is done away, that moment, at one sweep, the hopes of salvation entertained by the Christian world are destroyed"
Speaking with reference to all who call themselves Christian, which obviously included the Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young stated that "the moment the atonement of the Savior is done away, that moment, at one sweep, the hopes of salvation entertained by the Christian world are destroyed, the foundation of their faith is taken away, and there is nothing left for them to stand upon." 
Howard W. Hunter: "nothing is more important in the entire divine plan of salvation than the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ"
Howard W. Hunter, of the Quorum of the Twelve, taught that "nothing is more important in the entire divine plan of salvation than the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We believe that salvation comes because of the Atonement. In its absence the whole plan of creation would come to naught." 
Twenty-five years ago Elder Gordon B. Hinckley reminded the Saints that:
No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane …[or] the cross, the instrument of his torture… This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha's lonely summit. We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us. 
Elder John K. Carmack, in April 2001 General Conference, took it to a more personal level: "Christ's Atonement is the central doctrine, but of even more comfort and benefit has been how wonderfully accessible and individual His mercy and help have been to me personally."  The significance of the atonement was also brought out by the first prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith, who wrote regarding:
The condescension of the Father of our spirits, in providing a sacrifice for His creatures, a plan of redemption, a power of atonement, a scheme of salvation, having as its great objects, the bringing of men back into the presence of the King of heaven… The great plan of salvation is a theme which ought to occupy our strict attention, and be regarded as one of heaven's best gifts to mankind. 
- Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
- Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: Research Publications, 1888), 70-71. Quoted in Dale Morgan, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History, ed. John Phillip Walker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), xxx.
- Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, "THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass," Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194.
- William E. McLellin, journal, 18 July 1831, reproduced in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, edited by Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: Brigham Young University Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 29. ISBN 0842523162..
- Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original version posted on the critical website "FutureMissionary.com") (2013)
- Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction: Reflections on the Reactions to Rough Stone Rolling and Related Matters," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): xi–liv. off-site wiki
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 3 (Salt Lake City, Utah; Deseret Book Company, 1980) : .30 The passage is quoted frequently: Richard R. Hopkins, Biblical Mormonism. Responding to Evangelical Criticism of LDS Theology (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1994), 123; Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book Company, 1976), 121.; The Teachings of Joseph Smith, edited by Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 55; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 60.; also in M. Gerald Bradford and Larry E. Dahl, "Doctrine: Meaning, Source, and History of Doctrine," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), 1:393–397; Tad Callister, The Infinite Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), 3–4; Keith W. Perkins, "Insights into the Atonement from Latter-day Scriptures," Principles of the Gospel in Practice. Sperry Symposium 1985 (Salt Lake City, Utah;: Randall Book Company, 1985), 91; Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report (April 1950), 130; quoted in Richard G. Grant, Understanding these Other Christians. An LDS Introduction to Evangelical Christianity (self-published, 1998): 42; My Errand from the Lord. A personal study guide for Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums 1976-1977 (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 1976), 92. The statement was first published in an early LDS publication, the Elders' Journal I (1832): 28–9. The frequency of appearance of this quotation in LDS literature makes one wonder why it is not to be found in Mormonism 101; indeed, the authors claim to have read the first six references cited here.
- B.H. Roberts, The Seventy's Course in Theology, Fourth Year (1911): The Atonement (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1994), iv–v. This is a reprint edition of this book, first published by Deseret News Press, 1907–1912.
- Joseph F. Smith, "Principles of Government in the Church" (September 13, 1917), Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 5, edited by James R. Clark (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 83; first published Improvement Era 21 (November 1917), 3–11.
- Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1969, 1941), 24. McKeever and Johnson claim to have read this volume. The statement cited is also quoted in a student manual: Doctrines of the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church, 1986), 9.
- Grant, Gospel Standards, 6, citing Deseret News Church Section, September 3, 1938, 7.
- Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report (April 1985), 11, quoted in Callister, The Infinite Atonement, 17; also, Robert Millet, "Foreword" to Callister, The Infinite Atonement, x. off-site
- Brigham Young, "Character and Condition of the Latter-day Saints, Etc.," Journal of Discourses, reported by David W. Evans 8 May 1870, Vol. 14 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1872), 41, quoted in Callister, The Infinite Atonement, 9.
- Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 7; in Latter-day Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2001), 385.
- Ensign (May 1975), 93 off-site; cited in Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1997), 26–27.
- Ensign (May 2001), 77 off-site.
- Joseph Smith, History of the Church 2:5–6, 23; cited in The Teachings of Joseph Smith, 481–482.