I’ve watched 100s, probably 1000s of hours, of YouTube videos during the last 3-4 years. Some of my favorites involve John Lennox, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Richard Bushman, and the many past speakers at FAIR Mormon conferences (click here). This bright LDS guy has created a YouTube channel onto which he uploads hours and hours of videos, defending the LDS church against all the contemporary critical claims.
I just found this guy’s videos 3-4 days ago. You can search on YouTube by searching for “LDS Truth Claims”. He also posts his presentations on Sway (click here). After watching #1 last night it looks like he meets in his LDS chapel somewhere in greater Seattle on Tuesday evenings. This Seattle-area Latter-day Saint is well prepared and extremely organized.
I believe in having faith. I also believe in supporting faith with understanding. Many who don’t believe in our faith (especially many who have left) will often distort our positions and history. You might as well get to know your church, its teachings, and history better.
There’s no doubt some people believe they see ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc. Few, but they’re out there. There’s also no doubt some people seek attention, create hoaxes, etc. Probably more than those who genuinely think they saw a UFO, but jokesters, promoters, and elaborate schemers are out there, for sure.
Obviously, we don’t have to believe every claim someone makes. We should, instead, weigh evidence. Treat the Book of Mormon witnesses or Bigfoot as any other claim. Is it credible, does it stand the test of time, was the witnesses subject to interrogation, etc.?
I’ll focus this thread on Bigfoot, as this is the most common claim put forward by critics: that Bigfoot sightings are just as credible as the Book of Mormon witnesses.
A few years ago in an online forum we were discussing the Book of Mormon. To support LDS positions I mentioned the 11 witnesses. Someone replied that belief in Bigfoot (& associated claims) had as much reliability as the Book of Mormon witnesses.
Others have since mentioned Santa, unicorns, UFOs, apparitions of Mary, Nessy the Loch Ness Monster, and other figures many swear they’ve seen (but probably haven’t).
I asked him a few questions, poking him gently about his assertion. I’ll list some of my questions below:
– Has Bigfoot ever been seen by more than 1 guy at a time?
A group of witnesses that simultaneously see an event has more credibility than a single person. Most Bigfoot sightings are reported by single individuals, but some groups have made the same claims. In fact, large groups of people have formed communities to share their Bigfoot stories.
This link, among many other details, discusses 3000 people represented by a Southern California marketing firm (owned by a fellow named Matt Moneymaker). All 3000 insist they saw Bigfoot. So, large numbers of people are on record with the same claim.
In fact, a YouTube video about Bigfoot on Animal Planet has an entire family participating in a Bigfoot hoax at the same time. So, large and simultaneous groups are possible. Is this proof, however? Well, have groups of 3000 and entire families been mistaken before and/or been involved in hoaxes?
This link shows some of history’s greatest hoaxes, fooling millions of people.
Oh, but before you think everyone saw the Bigfoot, you should know that Bigfoot was made up in the 1950s. See this link’s final paragraphs. And read the hilarious paragraph after this awesome 1950s image.
Knowing that Bigfoot was made up, but still claimed to be real decades after the hoax, demonstrates that people in groups big and small can fib, seek attention, be convinced of falsehoods, etc. Credibility and the test of time matter.
“After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”
– Did the Bigfoot sighting and associated claims last the test of time?
David Whitmer (image above) lived 60 years after seeing plates, other objects, and angel that day in 1829. All 11 witnesses suffered economically, socially, politically, and in other ways; yet, didn’t deny their claims.
The Book of Mormon witnesses were persecuted, families kicked out of homes, wives raped, assets seized, and on and on. Any Bigfoot claimant go through that much and stick to his story? Never heard of one claiming to see Bigfoot get persecuted to this extent and stand by his story.
This link shares information of Martin Harris’ consistent testimony throughout his life.
Text in image: Dale Lee Wallace displays the original feet his uncle Ray Wallace strapped on to help make Bigfoot tracks in 1958.
“No region in the country has a lower percentage of churchgoers than the Pacific Northwest. But ask people here about the existence of a camera-resistant, grooming-challenged, upright biped known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch and the true believers shout to the misty heavens in affirmation.
So it came as a considerable blow when the children of Ray L. Wallace announced that their prank-loving pop had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to stomp a track of oversized footprints in a Northern California logging camp in 1958. Mr. Wallace, 84, died on Nov. 26 at a nursing home in Centralia, Wash.
”This wasn’t a well-planned plot or anything,” said Michael Wallace, one of Ray’s sons. ”It’s weird because it was just a joke, and then it took on such a life of its own that even now, we can’t stop it.”
– Did the Bigfoot claimant crack under cross-examination and provide repeated, consistent statements?
The 11 witnesses provided over 200 personal statements & interviews, each time confirming the same details. LDS and non-LDS interviewers applied lots of pressure and prodded the witnesses, testing them from every possible perspective.
Con artists tend to wither when threatened. Their testimony wavers and they tell the truth. Some people have mental conditions; others are motivated by fame, attention, money, and fanfare; and still other explanations contribute to seeing ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, etc.
– What were the circumstances of the Bigfoot sighting? And was the testimony consistent?
I encouraged the fellow in the discussion to please find a clear, not fuzzy, not quickly ducking into the woods Bigfoot sighting with 3 or more witnesses. Each reported Bigfoot sighting tends to go like this: one guy is alone in the forest near dusk. Neither he nor we can see what is out there. His gray, blurry, and shadow-filled video is typically far from conclusive.
You can review scores of videos at the Sasquatch YouTube channel linked at the bottom of this post. All are fuzzy. Not one is conclusive.
In contrast, the 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon were reporting what they saw in broad day light. Their corroborating testimonies never wavered.
– Did people in Joseph’s area think he had golden plates?
Yes. Many folks persecuted and tormented Joseph for the plates they genuinely believed he had. Several men followed Joseph on the night he secured the plates from the hill and hounded him consistently. Many people hefted the plates while they were in a pillow case, and knew it was something very dense.
Martin Harris didn’t see the plates till the summer of 1829 near Fayette, NY,. Before that time, when Martin lifted the pillow case he commented that, given the density/weight, Martin knew Joseph had either lead or gold plates. And Joseph, according to Martin, certainly lacked the credit for lead.
Further evidence, Joseph excommunicated nearly all the 11 witnesses at some point. Had this been a hoax or conspiracy — with so many of these men mad at him on 1 or many occasions — these witnesses would have turned on Joseph. If it had been a grand hoax or elaborate scheme these men would have told the world of their great fraud.
Human nature would have ended this conspiracy, had it been one. More than one of the witnesses at one point or another said Joseph was fallen or at least mistaken. Several left the Church angry and disappointed. Others among the witnesses had major disagreements with each other and Joseph. But none of them denied holding the plates (the 8 witnesses), seeing the angel (the 3 witnesses), seeing the objects on the table (the 3 witnesses), etc.
– Did anyone touch Bigfoot during a sighting?
The 8 witnesses held the plates. They flipped through the metal pages. The 3 witnesses saw the angel turning the pages of the plates. Most Bigfoot sightings see the elusive furry creature from great distances. And the camera images — no surprise! — are always very fuzzy.
– How credible are folks claiming to have seen Bigfoot?
Martin was a highly successful farmer and public servant. David Whitmer was a successful business owner and mayor of Richmond, MO. Oliver Cowdery was a respected attorney.
Conclusion: it’s much, much easier to believe in the 11 witnesses than in those claiming to see Bigfoot.
“But the vast majority of scientists still believe Bigfoot is little more than supermarket tabloid fodder. They wonder why no Bigfoot has ever been captured, dead or alive.”
“Many of the sightings and footprints, meanwhile, have proved to be hoaxes.
After Bigfoot tracker Ray Wallace died in a California nursing home last year, his children finally announced that their prank-loving dad had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to create a track of giant footprints in a northern California logging camp in 1958.”
Hilarious. A tracker himself created the myth out of thin air!!!
Dennett says he’s not surprised by the flood of Bigfoot sightings.
“It’s the same kind of eyewitness reports we see for the Loch Ness Sea Monster, UFOs, ghosts, you name it,” he said. “The monster thing is a universal product of the human mind. We hear such stories from around the world.”
P.S. If Joseph Smith had been a fraud, why would he have chosen to produce ancient artifacts on 2 separate occasions? 3 guys see an angel holding plates with lots of stuff on a nearby table. A few days later, 8 guys hold what Joseph has long been claiming to have translated — the Gold Plates. He didn’t have to show all this stuff.
P.P.S. There’s absolutely no evidence Joseph understood how to smelt and form metal plates. Nor was he a hypnotist — something else critics claim he likely was involved in. In addition, 2nd sight isn’t a real thing. Critics bring up 2nd sight from time to time…
Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims against the Book of Mormon witnesses:
LDS critics often ignore the 200+ accounts given by LDS sources. That is bad scholarship. Would you like it if someone ignored all your personal claims, which are supported by others, and talked over you? Telling you what you really experienced?
Yet, this is exactly what many LDS critics often do. They ignore LDS witnesses and seemingly believe anything early LDS critics say about the witnesses. Even when they know nothing about those early LDS critics.
To rely more on testimony from LDS critics, especially excommunicated Stephen Burnett (often cited by critics), and downplay the LDS witnesses themselves would create legal problems for an attorney in court.
A judge wouldn’t appreciate an attorney withholding exonerating information if — as in the case of the 3 witnesses — the witnesses were credible and their accounts were intentionally suppressed. Such an attorney would be sanctioned in court.
The CES Letter and other anti-Mormon tracts usually share nothing from the Book of Mormon witnesses. But they do mention ex-communicated members’ second-hand stories about Martin Harris, Palmyra-area pastor’s third-hand account about Martin Harris, and other less credible sources. No proper defense of the witnesses themselves by allowing their personal narratives — over 200 total are available — to be told. The 11+ witnesses’ own stories would exonerate them, giving a personal and credible side of the story. Not only what church enemies say.
Remember the Duke lacrosse trial? The DA was disbarred and prosecuted for burying exonerating information about the athletes.
Judge-imposed sanctions are penalties placed upon a party who is found in violation of the rules of court procedure. Burying exonerating evidence, as occurred in the Duke lacrosse case, and often done by LDS critics, would get one sanctioned in court. My attorney brother suggested the judge doesn’t like to learn an attorney hid (exonerating) information to make his/her case more appealing.
These sanction penalties often take the form of fines, including paying for opposing attorney’s fees, or the dismissal of the legal claim.
Brett McDonald discusses the strength of the Book of Mormon witnesses below:
“With only 16 percent of Americans Bigfoot believers, you might just write them off as crazy. But contrary to popular assumption, folklore experts say, Bigfoot believers may not be as irrational as you’d think.”
Reason 1: They think they saw Sasquatch, and they want to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not “crazy.”
Reason 2: Their tribe believes in Sasquatch, so it would be weird if they didn’t.
Reason 3: Believing in Bigfoot keeps hope alive that people can be self-sustaining—and that humans haven’t totally destroyed the environment beyond repair.
Reason 4: Lack of proof doesn’t disprove that Bigfoot exists, so it’s hard to declare—with certainty—that Bigfoot is fake.
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.
More anecdotes by Richard Anderson:
Richard Anderson wrote a wonderful book on this topic (red book below) that you can find here.
Dan Peterson is a professor at BYU and long-time defender of the LDS Church. I enjoy Dan’s style and share his 2006 presentation below:
Brian Hales debunks Dan Vogel and the CES Letter’s claims critical to the Book of Mormon Witnesses:
This talk was given in April 1999. You can find the talk here and watch below.
Ample opportunities presented themselves for each of the 3 witnesses to deny or deviate from their public testimonies. They never did. 1837 brought the Kirtland bank problems. Martin was excommunicated at this time. He was rebaptized in 1842. Martin stayed in Kirtland till 1870, looking after the Kirtland Temple. In 1870 he moved to Utah at the age of 87.
There is hope for each of us, even if we’ve strayed from a favored position.
FYI: Dallin H. Oaks is a descendant of Martin Harris’ older brother, Emer Harris. Harris is Elder Oaks’ middle name. Elder Oaks provides personal insight into the life of Martin Harris.
Elder Oaks was awesome yesterday. A few of my thoughts below:
John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
What Christians believed in Joseph’s day and for centuries before was not true: that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were an incomprehensible, unknowable mystery. According to Elder Oaks, “We believe that the truth about the nature of God and our relationship to him is knowable and is key to everything else in our doctrine.”
Paul references the three members of the Godhead below:
2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.”
3 separate and distinct beings in the Godhead:
God the Father: Creator and Ruler of the Universe; Father of our spirits; Author of Plan of Salvation
God the Son: First Begotten in the Spirit and the only Begotten in the Flesh; Redeemer and Mediator; He saved us from death by Resurrection and from sin by the Atonement; Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel speaks to and through prophets; God of the whole Earth
God the Testator or Witness: Holy Ghost; Comforter; Personage of Spirit; Agent of Personal Revelation; Mission is to testify of the Father and the Son; Guides into all truth
So what, you ask?!
Please contemplate what Joseph restored. With these truths restored and a clear plan of salvation we have the ultimate road map. We know who we are, who we can become, we know who makes it all possible, and we know whom and why we worship.
Some believe that Jesus’ resurrection was not literal. Some even believe Jesus never lived.
Truth comes to us in 2 forms: from faith (trust based in experience, in this case spiritual) and reason. Virtually all New Testament scholars — both religious and atheist — are as sure of Jesus’ life as they are that Alexander the Great lived. So, when someone says Jesus is a legendary figure, such as Robin Hood or Sir Lancelot you now know better.
So, not only did Jesus live, but he also rose from the dead. I found this video by Gary Habermas (wonderfully tough Evangelical Christian) to be awesome. Gary shows that by accepting only parts of the New Testaments that even the skeptical scholars trust as historical, one can still demonstrate that Jesus rose the 3rd day. In addition, one can be sure that the New Testament (despite what some critics say) is trustworthy and authoritative.
You may want to watch this video a few times. I had to do so to fully understand what Gary was talking about.
So, what does this have to do with the LDS Church? Well, if we don’t have a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, we don’t need a Joseph Smith to restore His Gospel after an apostasy. You probably already believe this event. I simply don’t think it hurts to understand more scholarship to reinforce your beliefs! After all, more and more folks neither believe in a literal Jesus nor a bodily resurrection.
We have a restored testimony of Jesus Christ, his true nature, and purposes.
Let us share this message with great humility. As Elder Oaks says,
“Sometimes we do this in a way that gives great offense to people who belong to other churches or who subscribe to other philosophies. But God has not taught us anything that should cause us to feel superior to other people.
Certainly all churches and philosophies have elements of truth in them, some more than others. Certainly God loves all of His children. And certainly His gospel plan is for all of His children, all according to His own timetable.”
We believe the priesthood and associated keys were restored to Joseph Smith. However, unique truths and perspectives are found in every faith and people on earth. No one organization has a monopoly on goodness or truth.