Saturday, February 07, 2009

Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses

I've formed some opinions about the Book of Mormon witnesses, but I don't like reaching uninformed conclusions so I decided to read up on them. I just finished reading Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson based on the recommendation of no less that Daniel C. Petersen whose quote on Amazon is titled, "An Instant Classic" and states
This is one of the most important books ever published in the field of Book of Mormon studies. I recommend it without hesitation, and with the greatest enthusiasm. It deserves to be kept in print for the indefinite future.
Based on that I wanted to see how it would address my concerns about their testimonies.

Unfortunately, it didn't offer anything new. Here's my review that I posted on Amazon.

Based on Daniel Petersen's review I was expecting quite a bit more. This book is essentially a series of brief biographical sketches of each of the witnesses with an emphasis on their normality and integrity in their normal lives and how they repeatedly re-affirmed their testimony of the Book of Mormon. I'm convinced that they believed and weren't lying and that it was real to them.

What it fails to do, however, is provide any kind of detail about the nature of the experiences that they have. The author repeatedly emphasizes that it was real to them. However, these were people that believed in peep stones and magic too. I have no doubt that their visionary experiences were as real to them as alien abductions are to people that have experienced them. He readily dismisses, however, the possibility that the experiences were the product of the charismatic, visionary, ecstatic experiences that are typical of the religiously zealous. This is despite the fact that Martin Harris and David Whitmer both emphasize that their experience occurred by the power of God while in the Spirit. The fact that such experiences are real to them shouldn't be convincing to the rest of us.

I'm convinced that they had an experience and don't think they were lying. But if I accept their witness then do I have to believe equally sincere spiritual witnesses of countless others throughout the ages even though they are all contradictory?

I think the more interesting question, which isn't addressed by this book, is what is the actual basis of these types of experiences.

Unfortunately, the book only gives a couple of well-known descriptions of the experiences which bring up more questions than they answer. What is extremely troubling to me is the pro-forma nature of the testimonies. We lack critical details such as the date, the setting, the time of day, etc. We have evidence that the 8 witnesses' experience was spiritual as well. The author challenges this, but curiously can provide no refutation from the 8 witnesses themselves. I think it says a lot that they never described what happened and that the author doesn't bring this up.

He also minimizes or neglects to mention evidence that challenges his thesis. One example is that he gives the Mormon version of the Charles Anthon story but neglects to quote Anthon's version which calls into question the veracity of Harris with regard to the Book of Mormon. He fails to mention the issues that David Whitmer brought up about Oliver Cowdery editing Joseph Smith's revelations by adding and deleting parts as well as challenging problematic details. This alone should call Cowdery's trustworthiness with regard to church history into question. This is why this book is an apologetic as opposed to a real history. I think the topic is covered much better by other more objective historians who treat all of the evidence and not just the favorable evidence.


Mountain Meadow Ghost said...

Another example of how low they set the bar for evidence supporting their beliefs, considering how they disregard everything that doesn't support their belief as anti-mormon.

If the Church is not true would they want to know? NO!

Bull said...

Exactly. The logic they use to attack non-favorable evidence is often even more applicable to their favorable evidence.

Anonymous said...

I guess you did not finish the book as there are chapters about the Eight Witnesses (plus references), and two chapters about attacks from people you seem to like called THE CASE AGAINST THE WITNESSES and THE CHALLENGE OF THE WITNESSES.

Bull said...

And perhaps you didn't read my post.

I did finish the book. Read it cover to cover. If you have specific counterexamples you'd like to offer or other sources then I'd love to seem them. But as I noted, the book confirms that they were unwilling or unable to provide detailed descriptions of their experiences and merely reiterated their pro-forma testimonies.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how you guys spend the first thirty years of your life touting certain "facts," and the last thirty years trying to convince others you were wrong.

What evidence do you have that your not wrong RIGHT NOW?

Anonymous said...

The title of the book is, "Investigating the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon" and not, "Proving the truthfulness of What the Witnesses Said". Anderson did a great job at giving evidence of the character traits of the three witnesses, which was his whole purpose for writing the book.