In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, we all recognize that Evidence Central (https://evidencecentral.org/recency) is a laudable effort to accumulate, organize and present extrinsic evidence that corroborates the truth claims of the Restoration, including the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
They are a useful resource on many topics.
However, much of the "evidence" published by Evidence Central is designed to promote that narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled everyone about the origin (SITH for stone-in-the-hat) and setting (M2C for Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs) of the Book of Mormon.
I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. But Evidence Central purports to be a faithful organization. Look at its Purpose statement: "Evidence Central strives to increase faith in Jesus Christ by making evidences of the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."
But instead of recognizing and supporting multiple faithful approaches, Evidence Central is an advocacy group for SITH and M2C.
This is the fundamental flaw of Evidence Central:
Evidence Central promotes the critical narratives that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the origin (translation) and setting (the hill Cumorah) of the Book of Mormon.
It's a tragedy because Evidence Central could fulfill its stated purpose by presenting evidence that supports all the faithful interpretations, including those that support and corroborate what Joseph and Oliver taught. By so doing, they would educate and unify Latter-day Saints, recognizing the principle of unity in diversity.
As currently led by its principals, Evidence Central insists on causing division and confusion by promoting only one interpretation--an interpretation that the opponents of the Restoration initially developed and continue to promote today.
The 2019 "Faith Crisis Report" by John Dehlin and others, which anyone can read at this link, surveyed thousands of people and concluded that
the top factors for loss-of-belief are highly correlated to each other and pertain specifically to the Church’s key historical truth claims: 1) Joseph Smith, 2) History, 3) Doctrine / theology, 4) Book of Mormon.
A key element throughout that report is the purported "gap" between the SITH narrative, which the report deems accurate, and the traditional Urim and Thummim narrative taught by Joseph and Oliver, which the report deems false.
Evidence Central has adopted Dehlin's "gap" theory as the only acceptable interpretation of Church history.
Again, that's fine. People can believe whatever they want. But in the interest of clarity, they owe it to their readers (and donors) to be clear about what they are teaching; i.e., that they are promoting the narrative from Mormonism Unvailed, John Dehlin, and other critics.
And they owe it to their readers (and donors) to explain that they do not accommodate faithful interpretations and narratives that corroborate and support what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Let's look at a recent example.
This "evidence" entry discusses the "Purpose of the Plates."
Naturally, anyone who reads what Joseph and Oliver wrote would conclude that Moroni gave Joseph the plates so he could translate the engravings on them. [See sample references below.]
But not Evidence Central.
In the Abstract of their "evidence" article they state, as a fact, that "the plates of the Book of Mormon weren't directly used in the process of their translation."
It is sometimes claimed that because the plates of the Book of Mormon weren’t directly used in the process of their translation, then they served no meaningful purpose. To the contrary, in a variety of ways the plates played a valuable role in the unfolding drama of the Restoration.
They say "it is sometimes claimed... they served no meaningful purpose."
By using the passive voice, Evidence Central avoids informing readers that this is precisely the claim made by Mormonism Unvailed back in 1834 when it described SITH.
The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old "peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging.
Joseph and Oliver denounced and refuted Mormonism Unvailed, but Evidence Central embraces and amplifies the SITH claims in that book.
Next, let's look at the "variety of ways the plates played a valuable role."
This section is a mass of confusion and sophistry that betrays their cognitive dissonance as they promote SITH while keeping one toe in the water of the traditional narrative--just in case Joseph and Oliver told the truth after all.
First, they contradict their entire premise by admitting there is evidence that Joseph used the plates to translate.
1. Evidence That the Plates Were Used to Translate. Accounts about the plates not being directly utilized in the translation are likely accurate but incomplete.
Evidence Central deems the SITH accounts "likely accurate but incomplete." But Evidence Central started the article by declaring that "the plates... weren’t directly used in the process of their translation." How do they rationalize their SITH theory? Look at this.
Evidence suggests that during the early stages of Joseph’s translation efforts, a mode of translation was sometimes used which directly involved the plates.... [quoting the Coe account of Joseph using the plates and the Urim and Thummim]... If accurate, this method of translating may also help explain accounts of a blanket or screen being used to separate Joseph from his scribe
Isolated evidence and evidence taken out of context can "suggest" anything. But as you'll see if you read the entire article, they simply omit what Joseph and Oliver said. And notice they're limiting evidence of actual translation to the undefined "early stages."
Look at the disparity in deference as well. The SITH accounts are "likely accurate" but the Coe account, only "if accurate," may "help explain" other accounts.
If Evidence Central sought to corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said instead of corroborating what the unbelieving critics said, they would have pointed out that the Coe account both (i) corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said and (ii) contradicts the SITH accounts.
There are other indications that Joseph Smith was at least occasionally aware of the relationship between the characters on the plates and the words he was dictating. He once explained that “the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left-hand side of the collection or book of plates.”
LOL. Joseph "was at least occasionally aware." This degree of imaginary mind-reading is another tell for cognitive dissonance.
This paragraph reminds me of the speaker at Education Week a few years ago who quoted Joseph's statement about the Title Page and said, "We don't know how he knew this because he never used the plates."
People in the audience stifled a laugh. They immediately realized how foolish this statement was.
The speaker hadn't considered the possibility that Joseph knew the Title Page was on the last leaf because he translated the engravings on the last leaf--just like he translated the engravings on every leaf.
[after quoting David Whitmer] This would have reinforced—at least to Joseph himself and perhaps to those, like Whitmer, whom he informed about the process—that even when using a seer stone Joseph’s dictation was indeed connected to the record in his possession.
More imaginative mind-reading. But this ephemeral "connection" directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver said.
To their credit, at least Evidence Central included an illustration of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim to look on the plates. They could and should have made this the focal point of the purpose of the plates; i.e., the purpose of the plates was for Joseph to translate them.
Instead, they insisted that Joseph didn't use the plates, except during the undefined "early stages."
Now look at their caption:
Artist’s rendition of Joseph Smith translating while wearing the breastplate with the attached interpreters or spectacles, later referred to as the Urim and Thummim. Illustration by Robert T. Barrett.
This caption teaches the critical narrative that Joseph adopted the term Urim and Thummim to make the interpreters sound more biblical. IOW, it's another example of Joseph and Oliver misleading everyone, because they both said Moroni used the term.
If Evidence Central lived up to its name, they would have included at least these following references as additional evidence about the "purpose of the plates."
Moroni "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record." (Messenger and Advocate I.5:80 ¶2, Times and Seasons II.4:243 ¶3, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69)
Regarding the 116 pages, Joseph said "I took from the Book of Lehi." (Preface 1830 edition)
Evidence Central proceeds to invoke a series of metaphorical "purposes" of the plates that made them important despite the fact (in their view) that Joseph didn't really translate them.
The additional purposes are fine in the sense of multiple working hypotheses, but they are insignificant compared to the stated purpose of the plates, which was for Joseph to translate them. But Evidence Central can't say Joseph translated the plates because they prefer the SITH narrative.
When Evidence Central explicitly (i) refutes what Joseph and Oliver claimed and (ii) omit what Joseph and Oliver claimed, they undermine the purported purpose of the organization. This is the opposite of making "the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."
This table shows how it works.
Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, July 1838
The “real meaning” of Joseph’s statement, according to Evidence Central, the Interpreter, FairLDS, CES Letter, Mormon Stories, Book of Mormon Central, Meridian Magazine, RFM, LDS Discussions, the Joseph Smith Papers editors, etc.
"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon."
"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; but I didn’t actually use the Urim and Thummim or the plates. In fact, I only adopted the term Urim and Thummim after someone else made the analogy to the Bible.
Instead, I took a stone I found in a well years earlier, put it in a hat, and then read words that appeared on the stone; and thus came the book of Mormon."
Obviously, the entire narrative of the Restoration of the Gospel depends on the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
- Together, they produced the Book of Mormon (as translator and scribe, respectively) and the early revelations.
- They received the Priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizedek).
- They produced the first published accounts of these events (the eight essays/letters found in the Joseph Smith Papers here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48
- They received the keys of the gathering and of temple work (D&C 110, based on the record of Oliver's brother Warren: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/194). [Note: some Church materials misleadingly claim Joseph Smith conferred the Priesthood on others, but everyone who bears the Priesthood can see that the line of authority goes through Joseph and Oliver. And, actually, it was Oliver, not all of the Three Witnesses, who ordained the original Twelve Apostles.
If Joseph and Oliver lied or even misled people, the narrative of the Restoration implodes and there is nothing left but a handful of scholars trying to rationalize why Joseph and Oliver might have been deceivers, but they were deceiving people to cover up an underlying truth.
Good luck with that.
Recently I spoke with someone about the origin of the Book of Mormon. This is a lawyer who has served multiple missions and in various leadership positions.
He mentioned that a niece had left the Church after hearing that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared off a stone he put in a hat (SITH, or the stone-in-the-hat theory). He couldn't understand why that was a problem.
I said it was a problem because that's not a translation, and it's not what Joseph said about the origin of the Book of Mormon.
He said Joseph Smith said he used a stone in a hat.
I asked where Joseph ever said that, because Joseph (and Oliver) always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and never said he read words off a stone in a hat.
He said "reputable scholars" say Joseph used SITH. Presumably he was referring to the SITH sayers who claim Joseph was referring to the seer (peep) stone when he used the term Urim and Thummim, which of course contradicts the historical record, as we've seen.
And then he said it doesn't matter how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon because it's true regardless.
No wonder his niece left.
Evidence Central is part of the network of interlocking "central" sites, funded by millions of dollars of donations, all designed to promote M2C and SITH in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
Seminary Central even features the ridiculous and offensive FARMS logo that presents the Book of Mormon as a Mayan text.
Young Latter-day Saints don't stand a fair chance against this onslaught of academic sophistry and misdirection coming at them from both the critics and the M2C/SITH scholars.
A case in point.
Evidence Central contains this entry on Oliver Cowdery:
In these letters, Oliver expressed a desire to live his life in a way that his credibility as a witness would not be called into question.
“I have cherished a hope,” he wrote to Phineas Young in 1846, “that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony … might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony.” Similarly, in a letter to David Whitmer, his fellow Book of Mormon witness, Oliver wrote that the Church “must arise in a measure upon our testimony, and upon our characters as good men. … Let the Lord vindicate our characters, and cause our testimony to shine, and then will men be saved in his kingdom.”
Yet Evidence Central (and the entire "Central" network) teaches people that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that it is a fact that here, between these hills...
Evidence Central teaches that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that Moroni said the "record was written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra and when he declared it is a "fact that .
Another excerpt that carefully omits a critical part of Oliver's testimony:
When Oliver returned to the Church, several witnesses remembered him testifying of the Book of Mormon. According to a “verbatim report,” taken down as Oliver Cowdery spoke at Council Bluffs, Iowa in October 1848, he declared, “I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which [the Book of Mormon] was transcribed.”
The footnote explains that Reuban Miller, who recorded Oliver's words, was a reliable minute-taker.
Journal of Reuban Miller, October 21, 1848, as printed in “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News, April 13, 1859, in Morris, Documentary History, 351. Miller had considerable experience in accurate minute-taking when he recorded Oliver’s speech, and thus his report is generally taken as a reliable report of Oliver’s words. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 377–392; reprinted in Oliver Cowdery, 401–419.
Despite emphasizing Miller's reliability, Evidence Central misleads readers by omitting what Oliver said about the Urim and Thummim. Here is the full quotation, with the part Evidence Central omitted in bold:
“I wrote with my own pen the intire book of mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the Lips of the prophet. As he translated it by the gift and power of god, By means of the urum and thumum, or as it is called by that book holy Interperters. I beheld with my eyes, And handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated, I also beheld the Interperters. That book is true, Sidney Rigdon did not write it, Mr Spaulding did not write it, I wrote it myself as it fell from the Lips of the prophet.” (Miller, Journal, 21 Oct. 1848.)