Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Response to Daniel Peterson on the Seer Stone

Note: This post is meant to be read in conjunction with my post titled Urim & Thummim or Magic Stone? How Smith claimed to produce the Book of Mormon.

[2017 update: Several years after this blog post below was posted which I have not edited here, around 2013 the LDS church started a new policy of being more forthcoming about Smith's use of the seer stone. Since then the LDS church has actually published photos of the seer stone and now admit openly that Smith used the hat method during translation.]

In 2006, on a message board, Daniel Peterson accused LDS members (who become exmormons), who didn’t know about Smith’s use of a Seer Stone while translating the Book of Mormon as being slothful and ignorant. My response was as follows (with a few updated changes to my original post):

I’ve read through all the comments on this post and wish to put in my two cents. Here is what I will not be saying:

• I will not be arguing that the church deletes all the information about the seer stone in some of its literature; but they do omit details in offical publications and instead portray Smith actually translating from the plates, which is inaccurate to say the least.
• I won’t be ignoring the fact that Latter-day Saints can and do have access to many controversial church subjects by simply reading articles from the Maxwell Institute or I agree that they can learn almost everything one might read by the Tanners, but not everything, as even the apologists leave out many things. As a former Mormon (or Post-Mormon) this is actually what solidified my own resignation: as Mormon apologists confirmed a lot of what the critics were saying.

Here is the gist of what I am saying:

• The church is voluntarily misleading people about how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon in its offical publications, and this is a kind of false advertising.
• I side with John Dehlin who suggests that the church should offer “full disclosure” about things like Smith’s use of the rock in a hat act.
• I don’t believe the church will offer full disclosure, because leaders are embarrassed by such things like Joseph’s use of a rock in a hat.

Regarding the quote by Hinkley that was posted by Mike Parker below:

“As I have already mentioned, from the beginning of this work there has been opposition. There have been apostates. There have been scholars, some with balance and others with an axe to grind, who have raked over every bit of evidence available concerning Joseph Smith, the prophet of this dispensation. I plead with you, do not let yourselves be numbered among the critics, among the dissidents, among the apostates. That does not mean that you cannot read widely. As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint.” (From a comment by Mike Parker — July 27, 2006).

What a great quote, but is it compatible with the September Six and/or Grant Palmer’s disfellowship?

John Dehlin nails it on the head when he wrote:

I’m not sure how to wade through all this, but I’ll approach it this way:

It seems to me that it is ethical, and maybe even in the Church’s long term best interest to proactively ensure that every member of the church, and every investigator, knows at least the following about its history:

–Joseph Smith had 33 wives, some of them being married to other men’s wives
–Joseph Smith publicly denied that he was practicing polygamy, and this fact, along w/ the destruction of the printing press, were important factors in his martyrom.
–The Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham were not “translated” in the traditional sense of the word, but instead were “inspired” works. The BOM plates were likely not used in the BOM that we have today.
–Black men were ordained to the LDS priesthood early on, but then were denied it for over 100 years, and some unfortunately racist statements were made by past prophets/apostles in this regard that are not to be considered church doctrine in any way –etc. etc.

If the church were to take the responsibility to proactively make sure that people learned this stuff growing up, or when they were investigating the church, then we would not have the shock and awe that many experience today.

We talk so much about our history in church publications, talks, etc. Full and proactive disclosure of these basic facts (reminded regularly) would certainly solve this problem, no?

It might introduce other problems, but at least everyone would be in the loop. Today, I can promise you that over 1/2 of the church is out of the loop on these basic facts, and it is becoming a problem for many. You can say that this isn’t the church’s responsibility, but I would disagree with you.

I believe that it is the open, honest, and responsible thing to do. We don’t have to dwell on these issues, but people should at least be made aware of them proactively.
(Comment by John Dehlin — July 27, 2006).

Awesome John! The church needs more people like you John Dehlin, who are willing to tell the truth and offer “full disclosure.” But in reality. I don’t believe the LDS church will do that for the same reason that Scientology won’t come right out and tell you about Xenu or body thetans. If the church offered full-disclosure, like a real-estate agent disclosing that the basement of the house has termites, who would join?

The real-estate agent is trying to sell a product/a house so they might fail to mention the termites until after the sale. The church does the same thing. Can you imagine a missionary standing before two investigators saying, “I, Elder Utah, know that Joseph dictated the BoM by staring at a rock.” Close your eyes and imagine every congregation in every LDS chapel full of people who think and feel like Grant Palmer or John Dehlin. Now I respect and support Dehlin (and Grant Palmer) but what would come of Mormonism? What would happen to Doctrine and Covenants 1:30, would there even be a D&C 1:30 (or 132) in the cannon anymore? What would separate the LDS church from other churches? This is why I’m a post Mormon and why I think the LDS church will probably never offer full-disclosure. …

Back to the issue of full disclosure with the rock in the hat act. The real issue is what one person wrote below:

I wouldn’t have known about it had I not read about it in non-church publications like FARMS [now Maxwell Institute] and Dialogue. The church leads all of us to believe that the plates were sitting in front of Joseph Smith on a table, and that he looked at them with spectacles attached to a breastplate. Or that he tranlated by staring at the plates with no spectacles at all. When “slothful” folks like us find out that the plates weren’t even used in the translation process, and that all of the action really happened in a hat, it can be a little disconcerting.

Amen to that comment. The bottom line is that two or three references to the seer stone in a hat in the Ensign and Improvement Era (obscure references you have to dig to find) does not make up for the LDS church’s official image campaign to portray Smith actually translating gold pates in front of him. This image is untrue and church leaders know it for they admit it in at least one article in the Ensign (mentioned in this thread), so why the false advertising?

Why aren’t LDS apologists openly protesting at church the image of Smith with the plates, which comes off as if he is actually translating something, if they know it’s untrue? ... Why won't LDS apologists contact the church and set the record straight rather than give the lame excuse that its all the artist’s fault for not knowing their history?

The apologist, Daniel Peterson, in this thread of comments blames the exmormon and calls them ignorant and slothful when most Mormons, who have spent years in the church don’t know about the rock in the hat act because they are encouraged to only read offical LDS literature, which portrays Smith translating from the actual plates with no mention of the seer stone. In his wonderful video presentation, Why They Leave, John Dehlin points this out in clip #9, and clip # 21 & 22. Dehlin contrasts what Mormons are taught growing up versus the historical truth. Can you imagine what would happen if the church broadcasted John Dehlin’s honest and compassionate video at general conference?

Can you imagine what bridges it would build between couples about to divorce because of Mormonism, how it would help families that have been broken up due to false information put out by the LDS church; how it would create compassion for those who are depressed because they are shunned by the Mormon community for studying information in non-church approved sources and then finding out the LDS church won't put out that information in the church approved sources? Can you imagine how it would help inoculate the LDS membership and keep them from being shocked by reading such information in literature written by critics; instead they would get it from the church itself through offical LDS publications?

But will that happen? I don't think so, no way, not with Mormon apologists who refuse to hold their church accountable for misleading people by showing things like Smith with gold plates in front of him, and instead blame the inactive and exmormon calling them slothful and ignorant.

This comment by Daniel Peterson tells all; in his response to the issue of the LDS church not offering full-disclosure about the rock in a hat act and instead portraying Smith actually translating plates in front of him, Peterson wrote:

Apostate Mormons make their mistake in blaming the Church, when they do it, for their ignorance and sloth. They create a massive conspiracy to keep the information from them, when it is actually widely and publicly available in a large number of different venues. The issue looms large among some critics, but I don’t think it agitates much of the general Church membership or leadership. So now, I don’t think the Church is likely, any time soon, to address it or “correct the misconception” (Comment by Daniel Peterson — July 31, 2006 #

Peterson completely ignores the issue and the point (that he must know) that Dehlin brings up in his video presentation. Ask ten members at any LDS ward if they know about the peep stone in a hat Mr. Peterson. Are you saying that they are slothful and ignorant? What about you, are you willing to “correct the misconception” when you admit “the Church is [not] likely, any time soon, to address it…”? How long will the LDS Church portray a misleading and false image?

Side Note: this isn’t the only false image promoted by the church. The First Vision picture of two physical gods (or heavenly personages in physical form) is inaccurate as well. See my paper, The Real Story Behind the First Vision: How the Mormon Godhead Changed Overtime Part 1.

There’s no need for the apologist to say look up these obscure references in LDS sources where it mentions the seer stone, when the church advertising campaign is misleading. Why argue? Just go into any Mormon ward and ask ten Mormons if they knew smith dictated the BoM by putting a rock in a hat when the plates were nowhere in sight, and see what they say. LDS references to the seer stone is hardly mentioned except a few times, and the “hat” is hardly ever mentioned compared to the false image displayed in thousands and thousands of official LDS publications of Joseph not using a rock or a hat. Where are the official LDS sources discussing the fact that Smith used a seer stone while money digging to swindle people out of their money? Where do official LDS sources openly discuss Joseph Smith's arrest and being brought before a judge on criminal charges before a court in 1826 for being “a disorderly person” because of his money digging practices as a glass looker? (for details see
here, here, and here). Where are these facts presented honestly in a historical article in the Ensign? Yes I know money digging is mentioned in Joseph Smith’s history, but it does not cover the 1826 court incident or how he swindled people out of their money with his seerstone.

Lets just be honest, the true history embarrasses the church and the apologists for that matter. Honestly, imagine two missionaries with the flip chart flipping to Smith with a rock in a hat. Who, among LDS the leaders, would want that kind of honesty?

The fact is that if they showed images of the truth, of Joseph sitting with a Bible on the table for reference, the plates no where in sight, and his head buried in a hat staring at a rock what would that do for the church? Just look at how embarrassed Mormon leaders are about the South Park episode.

When I read about “the interpreters” growing up in the church I imagined a pair of glasses since the official images were of Joseph hunched over gold plates. I challenge the LDS apologist to walk into any ward and ask 10 people how Smith translated the BoM; and if they are honest the apologist will admit that probably 9 out of 10 Mormons won't know that Smith used his money digging seer stone and a hat with no plates in sight for the dictation of the published BoM; and instead probably 9 out of 10 Mormons will hold the false view that the Urum and Thummin, or interpreters, were used like supernatural aids (like reading glasses) to help Smith produce the published BoM by literally translating the plates on a table in front of him like someone might translate a foreign language.

There was some discussion in this thread that covered the witnesses. Palmer thoroughly debunks the witnesses as reliable in his book, but really why discuss it? As Al Case asks at in the BoM questions section, “Why would many of them [the witnesses] become Strangites? If Utah Mormons believe the witnesses’ testimonies of Joseph Smith’s claims shouldn’t they also believe the testimonies of James Jesse Strang’s very similar claims?(same for William E. McLellin’s movement)?”

Why would a deity want us to believe hearsay when we could have evidence of the plates? If you say the Mormon gods didn’t want to give us evidence then why does my 1963 BoM, in the introduction, show a picture of gold tablets found in Persia in 1961 in an attempt to provide evidence of at least the existence of gold plates when all the angel had to was say, “well, look. We, up there, have been doing a lot of thinking. We know in the future DNA evidence will come out and change things a bit. We know the witnesses aren’t reliable. Heck David Whitmer is gonna tell everyone God told him to leave the Mormon Church in his little pamphlet An Address to All Believers ... So ya know what. Keep the plates. Bury them again and later a modern LDS prophet can dig them up and provide some real evidence so that we can save the souls of future exmormons.”

Never mind whether or not the witnesses are reliable, its only hearsay, and they believed in James Strang’s claims; and we could have the plates to examine ourselves if it were all true!

I conclude with these two excellent quotes from comments in the thread:

“the big deal about the [LDS] manual? you ask? well for one, lots of folks dont get much more info than that (due to their own slothfulness of course). in many units the teachers are not actually teachers, rather they are moms, milkmen, cops, doctors, laborers, factory workers, social workers, sex workers (ok, that last one is less common but you get my point.) so, these busy folks and unhistorianed folks rely on the manual to create a lesson. for you, there are other resources, not so for everyone … and more, people trust the manuals as part of the modern revelation schtick. you may not. but some folks do. my mother prepared a lesson recently that I read. the whole thing was from the manual, ensign and scriptures. because, that is what is suggested to her as a gd teacher… we are talking about folks thinking there was a breastplate thing, and finding out it was a hat. in this ONE case" (

"The real heart of the matter for me is that the peepstone, or seerstone, that Joseph used to translate the BoM is the same stone he used in his mystical money digging ventures of which none were ever successful” (

And with that excellent comment, I concur and conclude with, that is in fact the real heart of the matter.

My above post came from: Comment by wkempton — August 1, 2006 # 214; Original source:

In defense of Daniel Peterson, after many former Mormons have protested over the years the LDS church's false description of how Joseph Smith put together his Book of Mormon, it appears that some LDS apologists are starting to come clean. In the PBS documentry, The Mormons, LDS apologist Daniel Peterson tells the truth about Smith's use of a seer stone (to watch Peterson go here and click on part 1, chapter 3 'The Early Revelations'....about 1/3 the way into the clip Peterson discussess the rock in the hat act). I was pleased to see Peterson tell the truth after debating with him and another Mormon apologist about why the LDS church doesn't tell the truth about the seer stone on on a thread about Tal Bachman, see here).

Perhaps we former Mormons, on message boards, got to him (his conscience)? So maybe he decided to be forthcoming about the true nature of the alleged translation of the Book of Mormon or maybe he decided to do it all on his own. Either way, at least Peterson is being honest to the public on this issue.


Seth R. said...

So, if the LDS Church changes its curriculum to disclose the above bullet points from John Dehlin, are you planning on coming back to church?

William Kempton said...

Hello Seth,

Where in my post did I ever imply that was the only reason keeping me from going back to the Mormon Church? By the way, if you plan on responding to this by not discussing the topic of this post, then please email me instead and we can discuss it. I want comments to be related to this post. Thanks.

A Short List of Reasons Why I am Not a New Order Mormon and Decided to Resign

Note: If you are a New Order Mormon for the sake of family and career, I respect your decision. This is just my subjective point of view. ...