One subject that troubled me for a while were the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Everything else seemed to fit well with Joseph Smith being a fraud and his followers willing dupes. However, the witnesses never recanted their testimony which seems like pretty strong evidence that they believed in the Book of Mormon. I still think that this is probably one of the stronger pieces of evidence that the church has and is one of the smartest things that Joseph Smith did. Until he had the witnesses' signatures, everything pretty much rested on his word. Afterwards he would have 11 other men who essentially testified that what he was saying was true. Furthermore, several of these men were subsequently run out of the church and would have seemed to have ample excuse to recant their testimonies, but they didn't.
I've since learned a little more about the witnesses that makes there testimony much less compellingto me.
The most important is the following statement by David Whitmer found in his publication, 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, should it be done unto them."This entire document is a repudiation of Joseph Smith and the various branches of Mormonism and he argues persuasively that they had fallen into error. If you believe his witness of the Book of Mormon, then should you also believe his arguments against the church? I think so. He was there from the beginning and argues very clearly how Joseph Smith and others fell into errors, gave false and contradictory revelations, and edited revelations after the fact to fix them.
As far as the witnesses themselves, I think that one would have to read their testimonies and try to ascertain what actually happened, because they subsequently said very little about the actual experiences that they had and what details they gave talk of spiritual land visionary experiences that would seem to be unnecessary if the plates physically existed. In fact, I find this to be one of the more damning evidences against them. They basically reaffirmed their statements time and time again, but with no details. As a result we really have almost no information of how, when, or where they saw the plates. If this were an exception I wouldn't think much of it, but since it seems to be the rule it makes me think that they had agreed to stick to the written testimony to avoid contradicting one another.
I have no doubt that David Whitmer believed he had had a vision of divine vision that was as real to him as any other experience in his life. In fact, it seemed to be more real than anything else because he believed the power of God was also involved. He had no doubts. I really don't doubt that he was earnest, but I do question his interpretation of the experience and whether his vision was a divine manifestation or a product of his brain. Read my post about Lexapro Dreams for my own experiences in this regard. I can attest to the fact that they can seem vividly real even though they clearly are not.