This Christian scholar has valuable insight. I especially appreciated his discussion of the earliest documents. Like any book or scroll that is opened repeatedly, they wear down. They eventually are replaced by copies that are identical (or very, very, very close).
Broader history of the entire bible. This guy is always fun.
LDS critics often charge that our faith and its policies precipitate and trigger suicide.
To properly speak on this topic, one should understand quite a lot. I’ll link a few articles below that only skim the surface, but will begin to inform readers of at least a few of the many associated variables.
Engaging in this complex issue with unsupported allegations — often done by LDS critics — is highly irresponsible.
Trouble is, the number far exceeds the suicide figures collected by the Utah Department of Health.
Preliminary figures for November and December show 10 suicides in the Beehive State for people ages 14 to 20, with two more cases “undetermined.”
In fact, the department reports, the overall number of Utah deaths for that age group in those months was 25, including the 10 suicides and two “undetermined” cases, along with 11 in accidents, one by natural causes and one homicide.
“We monitor the numbers [of youth suicides] very closely. We review them every month,” says Teresa Brechlin, who works in the department’s violence- and injury-prevention program. “If we had seen such a huge spike, we would have been investigating it.”
Had there been any mention of the LDS Church’s policy on gays, her department “would have noted that,” Brechlin adds. “We have not seen that at all.”
Other paragraphs make the point that depression and suicide are extremely complex. No one factor triggers suicide.
“People with depression tend to have less efficient energy utilization in certain parts of their brain, like the prefrontal cortex,” said Brent Kious, a U. psychiatry professor and the review’s lead author. This energy roadblock, he said, means people have a tougher time overcoming negative emotions.
It turns out other mountainous states have similarly high suicide rates, with Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico also in the top five and Alaska ranked second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This trend has earned the Intermountain West a morbid nickname: the suicide belt.
The U. researchers reviewed several U.S. studies that found suicide rates increased with altitude. One that examined nearly 9,000 suicide deaths in 2006 across 15 states found the suicide rate at high altitudes was three times higher than for those living near sea level. Another study noted a “threshold effect,” where suicide rates increased dramatically between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. Salt Lake City’s altitude is 4,265 feet.
Scientists in other countries have discovered similar associations, the U. review found. Suicide rates in Andalusia, a mountainous region of Spain, were higher than the country’s average, a finding correlated with high altitude. In Saudi Arabia, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among depressed patients at a high-elevation psychiatric hospital was more than five times higher than at a sea level one.
These studies have piled up in recent years, Kious said, including several conducted by researchers at the U. One 2015 study showed how exposure to altitude led to more depression-like behavior in female rats. After a week of thin air, the rats were less likely to struggle in a swim test.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth suicide is in the midst of a precipitous and frightening rise. Between 2006 and 2016, suicides by white children between ages 10 and 17 skyrocketed 70%; while black children are less likely than white children to kill themselves, their suicide rate also jumped 77%. And as The Blaze points out, CNN reported last year that “the suicide rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 rose to a 40-year high in 2015.”
“It’s not just young people. According to Tom Simon, a CDC report author, “We know that overall in the US, we’re seeing increases in suicide rates across all age groups.” As of 2016, suicide levels were at 30-year highs.
A few years back, the trendy explanation was economic volatility — the market crash of 2007-2008 had supposedly created a culture of despair, cured only by suicide. But the economy is booming, and has been growing steadily since 2009. There are those who blame the rise in drugs as well, particularly opioids — but according to a study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, drinking, smoking and drug use may be at the lowest levels “seen in decades,” as the Los Angeles Times reports.
There seems to be a crisis of meaning taking place in America. And that crisis of meaning is heavily linked to a decline in religious observance. As The Atlantic observed in 2014, citing a study in Psychological Science:
The researchers found that this factor of religiosity mediated the relationship between a country’s wealth and the perceived meaning in its citizen’s lives, meaning that it was the presence of religion that largely accounted for the gap between money and meaning. They analyzed other factors—education, fertility rates, individualism, and social support (having relatives and friends to count on in troubled times)—to see if they could explain the findings, but in the end it came down to religion.
Suicide is complex. Please understand the data before demagoguing.
A guest blogger at the Millennial Star had followed Sam Young’s activities for the last few years. At least since 2014. He shares his insights below in this post: What is Sam Young’s True Cause?
The Pseudonymous George Rasmussen pointed out on 7/31/18 many details in Sam’s background and apostasy timeline. A little background on a typical pattern for LDS people to lose faith. One common way is to become undisciplined in personal study and to combine that with listening to faith-undermining sources.
Image below is of (excommunicated former member) John Dehlin. From the intro to the podcast for which he’s the primary host:
“Mormon Stories Podcast is a podcast principally hosted by John Dehlin featuring interviews with scholars and others especially on Mormon topics.”
“In October 2015, Young began participating in the Mormon Stories Podcast Community on Facebook to work through his issues with the Church. That infamous page was started by Young supporter and friend, (prominent excommunicated podcaster) John Dehlin.”
“The group is primarily populated by thousands of disaffected former or soon to be former members of the Church. Over the course of 2015, he says that he became more and more disillusioned with the Church. But, in February 2016 he made the choice to “follow Christ.” He did this in spite of the fact that he acknowledges that he doesn’t know if Christ really exists.
In order to understand Sam Young, one must recognize the perspective he set forth on May 19, 2016. In this post, he complained that he wasn’t be afforded his full rights as a citizen of the Church. “Jesus wants me to be an active part of the governance of His church…. In my church, I am a citizen not a subject!” On May 26, 2016, he expanded this by stating that, “Jesus values me and my opinion as an equity partner in his earthly organization.” I have seen him complain on countless occasions that based on his historic service in callings and his contributions of tithing that he should be afforded meaningful input and influence on Church teachings and practices.”
“At his most recent stake conference, Young exulted in the opportunity to sit front and center to vote opposed to the 12 with Elder Christofferson in attendance, and then complained that members of his stake didn’t seem enthused at his action. He complained bitterly online about how the congregation didn’t pat him on the back for his bravery.”
“In late 2016, I was surprised to learn that Sam had a temple recommend and was using it (occasionally). I had been watching his posts in the Mormon Stories groups for more than a year at that time and was shocked. He had shared his disbelief in all of the Church’s truth claims, and was candid that he was only in the Church due to family concerns. He clearly didn’t sustain the brethren and prophets, seers and revelators, and described Christ and the atonement as a fairy tale. He loudly cheered when his wife would do things that signaled baby steps away from the Church. He spoke about removing his garment, he spoke of breaking the word of wisdom; he applauded those leaving the Church.
Then, in January, 2017, he turned in his temple recommend. His reasons for doing so were convoluted. He said that he was sacrificing it to build the kingdom of God. It had become a distraction from what he was trying to accomplish in the Church, because members were complaining that he had one, so he gave it up so that he could focus on what he thought was important! At this time, it was that people were leaving the Church because the Church was being mean to them and not giving them a Sunday school class to complain about the things they didn’t like about the Church. I wish I was making this up.”
“As I mentioned above, through most of 2017, youth interviews were only one of a dozen categories of reasons Young was voting opposed in Church. The first time he ever mentioned it on his blog was on March 19, 2017. It was mentioned a couple of more times as the year progressed, but Young seemed to notice that his audience responded more to these things than they did to his long-winded and convoluted rants about common consent, or to his old, white, straight complaints about homosexual issues. He started focusing on this in October 2017 and put his numerous other complaints on his shelf. He found something with which he could get his 15 minutes, and he started beating that drum; which brings us back to 2018.”
Just as John Dehlin has made LGBTQ issues the main thrust of his stated compaints against the Church, I’m not surprised that Sam Young sharpened his focus on something that could get him traction.
“As more and more people signed his new petition, and the Church kept not caving, Young decided that he was going to organize a march in Salt Lake City. In a Facebook post that Young later deleted, he updated the demands from his petition to include a call for the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to resign their positions. Unfortunately, his supporters convinced him that this would make him sound more crazy than normal, so he reluctantly backed down, while privately saying that this is what he wanted. He had been voting opposed to the apostles for a couple of years at this point, so this is not surprising in the least.”
Read the entire post above by clicking this link to the Millennial Star blog post.
Preston discusses Joseph’s poverty, early struggles, and the help he got from others to further the mission of the Church.
YouTube intro: “Without the Prophet Joseph Smith, the entire state of Utah—not to mention the entire world— would be a different place than it is today. Preston Nibley narrates accomplishments of Joseph’s life and proves that he was a man of sincerity and determination who never wearied of the task of spreading the gospel.
“On Sunday, 12 November 1848, Apostle Orson Hyde stepped into the cool waters of Mosquito Creek1 near Council Bluffs, Iowa, and took Mormonism’s estranged Second Elder by the hand to rebaptize him. Oliver Cowdery, renowned as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and one of six founding members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had spent ten and a half years outside the church after his April 1838 excommunication.
Later that autumn day in 1848, Elder Hyde, president of the Quorum of Twelve and the church’s presiding official at Kanesville-Council Bluffs, laid hands upon Oliver’s head confirming him back into church membership and reordaining him an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.2 Cowdery’s rebaptism culminated six years of desire on his part and protracted efforts encouraged by the Mormon leadership to bring about his sought-after, eagerly anticipated reconciliation.”
What is truth, and how can we know it? President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained: “The ‘truths’ we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these ‘truths’ are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence. …
The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief. It is true even if nobody believes it” (“What Is Truth?” [Brigham Young University devotional, Jan. 13, 2013], speeches.byu.edu). It is good to accept the fact that we simply don’t know all things. We can’t see everything, but our Heavenly Father can.
We have been given the promise that if we will search for the truth, study it out in our minds, and ask with a sincere heart, it will be confirmed to us (see D&C 9:8; Moroni 10:3–5). Heavenly Father is pleased with us when we seek to discover truths. He loves teaching us line upon line, precept on precept. As we strive to learn and have faith in Him, He will bless us to see things as they really are.
Before we get to the critics, let’s keep the criticisms in perspective. The witnesses are direct witnesses. To favor the critics’ testimonies — whom most current LDS critics don’t know a thing about — is absurd. It shows tremendous bias. For an attorney to withhold exculpatory, direct evidence and to favor hearsay (2nd-hand account) or even anonymous claims puts such an attorney in jeopardy of sanction in court.
3 Witnesses: saw and heard an angel. The angel held the Gold Plates, flipped through the pages, called David by name, and testified. The three witnesses, additionally, observed a table on which rested many ancient artifacts: Gold Plates, Brass Plates, other plates, Liahona, Sword of Laban, and interpreters (seer stones). These 3 witnesses were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.
8 witnesses: saw, held, and hefted the Gold Plates; flipped through the metal pages; and noted the engravings on the pages. The plates were set on a stump. The eight men reported the sealed portion and the three D-shaped rings. The eight saw the plates 1-2 days after the 3 witnesses saw the angel and objects. These eight were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith.
Richard L. Anderson (Harvard Law graduate & Berkeley PhD) is a leading authority on the Book of Mormon witnesses. As an attorney, he understood the value of witnesses. During Richard’s study of these witnesses, he collected documents with over 200 positive and affirming statements from the 11 witnesses.
The three witnesses: 30 interviews or reports of contact w/ Oliver Cowdery, minimum of 70 with David Whitmer, and about 50 with Martin Harris. The eight witnesses shared up to 60 reports, affirming their experiences holding and evaluating the Gold Plates.
In contrast, a very small number of records critical to the witnesses’ testimony exist (8 to 10 total). 8-10 vs. 200. So, around 5% of the total records relative to the witnesses argue that the witnesses made it all up. Anderson shows how these critics — 1 named Stephen Burnett was recently excommunicated and hostile to the Church — take the witnesses’ stories out of context, misreport, and otherwise claim the witnesses were not credible. Richard discusses the topic and critics below.
Now we’ll shift to the criticisms of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We’ll start with Steven Burnett. At one point a very faithful member of the Church. In fact, he’s name in D & C 80:
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Stephen Burnett, at Hiram, Ohio, March 7, 1832.
1–5, Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith are called to preach in whatever place they choose.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.
Stephen is mentioned again in D & C 75:35. 23–36, Families of missionaries are to receive help from the Church.
35 And also my servant Ruggles Eames and my servant Stephen Burnett;
Minutes of a general Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet[t] in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831.
Elder David Bendar referenced Stephen Burnett many times in a 2017 General Conference talk, “Called to the Work“.
Section 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a record of a mission call to Stephen Burnett extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. Studying this call to Brother Burnett can help us to (1) understand more clearly the distinction between being “called to the work” as a missionary and “assigned to labor” in a particular place and (2) appreciate more completely our individual and divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the gospel.
Verse 1 of this section is a call to serve: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.”3
Interestingly, verse 2 informs Brother Burnett about his assigned missionary companion: “And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.”4
Verse 3 indicates where these two missionaries are to labor: “Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.”5
I do not believe that the phrase “it mattereth not” as used by the Lord in this scripture suggests that He does not care where His servants labor. In fact, He cares deeply. But because the work of preaching the gospel is the Lord’s work, He inspires, guides, and directs His authorized servants. As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work.
The next verse highlights important qualifications for all missionaries: “Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true.”6
The final verse reminds Brother Burnett and all of us from whom a call to serve truly comes: “Behold, this is the will of him who hath called you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.”7
In 1838, Steven lost property in Independence and then made (conflated, false) statements about Martin, suggesting Martin never saw the plates. Prior to that (loss of faith and property in Independence) Burnett never would have made such statements, as he was a believing Latter-day Saint.
As an early convert in Ohio, Stephen Burnett felt the Holy Spirit and a desire to take the gospel to his relatives. He led his parents into the Church and responded successfully to revealed mission calls (see D&C 75:35; 80). He “was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel” in Dalton, New Hampshire.
But by 1838 Burnett felt completely disillusioned. He felt he had tried but failed to regain the Holy Spirit. Finally he “proclaimed all revelation lies” and left the Church. Burnett wrote candidly to Lyman Johnson, explaining his decisions. “My heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence,” Burnett wrote, referring to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He felt that Joseph had used his influence for financial gain and had prophesied lies. He continued his compelling story:
I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it—lo[a]th to give it up—but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell [in] a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying of Joseph together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception practiced by J. S & S. R in this church, believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares[.] I was followed by W. Par[r]ish Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, after we were done speaking M. Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true.
Burnett gave us a rich metaphor by describing his faith as a building whose foundation had been shattered, leaving only a heap of ruins. Those who share his experience know exactly what he means. One strategy of coping with the devastating loss is to pull what remains from the heap of ruins and try to rebuild something sensible. Burnett and others since have dug into the pile of statements by and about the Book of Mormon witnesses and fashioned an alternative way to interpret the testimonies of the eleven eyewitnesses. Those whose faith in their own spiritual experiences has been shattered doubt that the witnesses had authentic spiritual experiences either, and therefore seek alternative explanations for the testimonies of the witnesses. Acknowledging that “Harris and others still . . . believe the Book of Mormon,”
A letter from Stephen Burnett claims that Harris never saw the plates at all, and that he only saw them when they were covered with a cloth
The quote in question is from a letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson” on 15 April 1838:
when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel…renounced the Book of Mormon…after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…
(image below of Emma feeling plates wrapped in a cloth. Emma never witnessed the plates. Harris didn’t either until 1829.)
When Harris said that “he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them,” he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses
The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation – a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett’s account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.
For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:
Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.
Harris told Robert Aveson,
It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.
George Mantle recalls what Martin Harris said while he was in Birmingham on a mission for the Strangites. This was well after Martin had left the Church:
When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: ‘Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.’
These statements are much clearer regarding Martin’s experience with the place than Burnett’s account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a “city through a mountain”. Critics dismiss direct evidence in favor of hearsay.
Another fellow who’s on record dismissing Martin’s account is a Palmyra pastor, John Clark, who considered Joseph a fraud. The problem with Clark’s account is that he never interviewed Martin. Instead, Clark’s statements dismissing Martin got into the historical record, despite being 3rd hand.
Really, you ask? Really. Clark never heard Martin. Not 1st hand. Neither did Clark hear from the person who supposedly heard the account from Martin. Not 2nd hand. Clark claims to have heard from the person who heard from the person who heard from Martin. 3rd hand. However, worse than that is that the 3rd-hand individual isn’t named. He or she is anonymous. Hummmm. Lots of credibility to this charge of Martin’s denial? Nope.
In fact, such a pastor would have lots of motive to distort the record. It seems he did just that, knowingly or unknowingly.
Here’s the dialogue that ended up in the historical record: Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the “eye of faith”?
A former pastor, John A. Clark, said that a “gentleman in Palmyra” told him that Harris said that he saw the plates with the “eye of faith”
John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,
To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did.
“Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.”
“But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.
John A. Clark did not interview Martin Harris – he was repeating what someone else told him. The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.
Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but third-hand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a third-hand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)
Clark’s account mixes elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as one of the Three Witnesses and portrays Harris as contradicting himself
The two elements that are mixed together in Clark’s account are the following:
Martin Harris said that he only saw the plates through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his experience as a witness.
Martin Harris saw the plates uncovered as one of the three witnesses.
Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.
When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his “spiritual eyes” or with an “eye of faith” he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris’ testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.
Rather than being hallucinatory or “merely” spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12; DC 67:10-13).
Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin’s words were: “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld“.  Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. 
Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or “juggling” at work:
“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“.
Peterson’s First Rule for the Study of Other Religions and Worldviews:
If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid, informed, and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.
Until you understand why people of good sense, learning, mental health, sound intelligence, solid ethics, and a desire for truth find a particular worldview convincing and worthy of allegiance — and I include among worldviews here not only religions but atheism and such secular ideologies as Marxism — you haven’t really understood it.
You don’t have to accept that other worldview, but, if you’re serious about understanding it, you really have to grasp it.
And here’s a corollary: If you encounter a faith or worldview that claims the allegiance of a large and diverse group of people and has done so for at least a few generations, you should not lightly conclude from the fact that you find that faith or worldview obviously wrong that its adherents lack good sense or learning, that they’re stupid or mentally ill or immoral, or that they don’t care about the truth. If you make that assumption, you’re almost certain to be wrong.”