Question: Does the fact that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith distant cousins make Oliver an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Does the fact that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith distant cousins make Oliver an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon?

Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated

The accusation that Oliver being a distant cousin of Joseph Smith makes him an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon is what is known as a "ad hominem" attack on the witnesses' character. The term "ad hominem" is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:

  1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
  2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

One can see that accusations that Oliver is an unreliable witness because he is related to Joseph Smith applies both of these definitions:

  • Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated. Those who put forth this criticism attempt to prejudice the reader by implying that this relationship made Oliver unreliable.
  • The fact that they were distantly related has no bearing upon Oliver's reliability as a scribe or as a witness. How does this relationship make him an unreliable witness? What is the conflict of interest?

More to the point, if Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he acted as a scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon simply because he was related to Joseph Smith, or if he was covering for Joseph when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, then why didn't Oliver expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? This would have been the perfect opportunity to expose a fraud.

Some have claimed that this rebuttal is a misapplication of the ad-hominem fallacy. It's easy to claim that an ad-hominem fallacy is misapplied by invoking the fallacy fallacy, which means that an argument can still be true even if it contains a logical fallacy. Thus, even if it's an ad hominem attack, it may still be true! This is a common counterclaim to make when an interlocutor accuses you of ad hominem. Let's revert to the original argument being made. The original argument states that the witnesses are unreliable because they are related to each other and their love and bias for Joseph somehow weakens their efficacy. It is ad hominem to claim this and does not address the consistency of the witnesses, even when their feelings for Joseph turned sour at different points of their lives. It does not address the multiplicity of occasions when they went on record to testify, the occasions when they went our of their way to correct their testimony when misrepresented by the public press, the both tangible and revelatory nature of their experience, the witnesses other than the 11 that saw the plates and handled them, and so forth. The argument is bunk.

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