This is the eighteenth in a series of 23 essays summarizing and evaluating Book of Mormon-related evidence from a Bayesian statistical perspective. See the FAQ at the end of the introductory episode for details on methodology
This author discusses Book of Mormon prophets, Old and New Testament prophets, and modern prophets.
An example of the author’s methodology:
To catalog the evidence here, we’re going to have to catalog some prophetic mistakes. We can consider this a sampling of the most public errors available from modern prophetic figures. I’ll emphasize that these are alleged errors—it’s certainly possible that each of these represent exactly what God would have preferred to happen. Obviously I don’t have the space to go into depth on any of these topics, but I’ve tried to link you to the most detailed scholarly sources available on each.
- Book of Mormon Copyright Sale. Though there’s a fair argument that the conditions of this prophecy weren’t met, the copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada was not sold as predicted by Joseph.
- Temple in Independence, Missouri. The D&C is quite clear that a temple would be built on the temple lot in Independence, with the implication that it would be soon. We can hold out hope for the future, but it does seem to be a bit of an embarrassing delay.
- Kirtland Safety Society. It would be tough, indeed, to argue that Joseph made perfect and perfectly inspired decisions in his handling of the financial affairs of the church in the Kirtland period.
- Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. Though Joseph’s martyrdom may have ultimately been the will of God, there’s an argument to be made that destroying the Expositor’s press was a tactical error that did little to protect the saints and hastened the prophet’s demise.
- Joseph’s Polygamy. Though polygamy itself may have been divinely inspired, I think it’s fair to say that Joseph’s handling of polygamy was, at times, less than graceful.
- Joseph and the Moon. Joseph saw many things in his visions. The surface of the moon was not one of them. Though he probably didn’t say this, both he and Brigham likely believed it, as did a number of prominent scientific minds at the time.
- Joseph’s Millennial Prophecy. This one isn’t fair, since it’s obvious from the text that Joseph wasn’t at all sure what to make of the Savior’s cryptic communication, but in that case the mistake may have been in publicly sharing something that he wasn’t sure about.
- Queens of the Earth Paying Homage. Joseph made a rather bold prediction that the queens of the earth would pay homage to the Relief Society within 10 years of its founding. This doesn’t seem to have occurred.
- Calling Apostles Who Would Later Apostatize. There are a number of apostles who later would leave the church and fall short of their callings. An argument could be made that those issuing these callings could have exercised prophetic foresight and called only those who would remain faithful.
- Blacks and the Priesthood. Both the Gospel Topics essay and Elder Uctdorf have made clear that the church considers both the priesthood ban itself and the post-hoc justifications for it as grievous errors.
- Handcart Companies. This one’s definitely debatable, but the tragedy of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies might not have happened if Brigham hadn’t chosen to institute handcarts in the first place.
- Mountain Meadows. Brigham’s role in the massacre remains controversial, and though I think the historians behind Saints vol. 2 make a strong argument that he did not approve of or have knowledge of the massacre beforehand, critics could sincerely ask why prophetic insight didn’t allow him to prevent it.
- Brigham’s Divorces. Brigham can’t take all the blame, since it takes two to tango, but the record would indicate that Brigham was not always the perfect husband (though I’m sure few mortals could ever succeed at spinning that many relational plates).
- Joseph Fielding Smith and Evolution. I have no doubt that President Smith’s views were sincerely held, and that the evidence for evolution wasn’t nearly as incontrovertible then as it is now. But he was wrong, and his stance continues to be a stumbling block for many.
- Forgeries of Mark Hoffmann. Though they had plenty of good company, it’s clear that the church was fooled, and fooled hard, by Mark Hoffman.
- Baptizing Children of Gay Couples. Regardless of the correctness of the doctrine, the relative swiftness with which this policy was revoked suggests that the brethren themselves realized it was a bad idea, both in terms of PR and in terms of unintended consequences.