On Investigating the Church and its Truth Claims

“If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.”

              -George A. Smith (8th President of the Church), Journal of Discourses, Volume 14, page 216

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

              -J. Reuben Clark (member of the 1st Presidency for 28 years)

“The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search of truth may lead. Truth is often found in the most unexpected places. He must, with fearless and open mind insist that facts are far more important than any cherished, mistaken beliefs, no matter how unpleasant the facts or how delightful the beliefs.”

              -Hugh B. Brown (member of the 1st Presidency), General Conference, October 1962

Informed consent:

You have the right to know sufficient information – positive and negative – prior to making important decisions. Limiting information or only presenting the good and omitting problematic information is not ethical or honest. You should never be made to feel guilty or wrong simply for researching or seeking information. You also have the right to get information from any source – you can discern for yourself whether that source is valid. This can be done by corroboration with various sources, cross-checking to source documents, etc. One website that I found to be very helpful is mormonthink.com. It’s a non-biased collection of various issues and it presents both sides of each issue and includes direct links to sources, such as the church’s website.

A word on “anti-Mormon” sources:

Often the term “anti-Mormon” is thrown around to discourage people from reading or listening to anything that is not positive about the Church. This is simply not appropriate. Just because someone/something points out a negative aspect about the church, that does not make them anti-Mormon and it does not automatically discount what they have to say. Even if someone is angry about something, that does not automatically disqualify them from being listened to. Maybe they have a valid reason for feeling angry. Also, disagreeing with or questioning the church does not make one “anti-Mormon” any more than simply disagreeing with any other faith makes one “anti.”

Feeling negative feelings when researching:

A lot of this information will be new to you, and it may be contrary to things you have learned in church. This will naturally make you feel uncomfortable or negative feelings. This is completely normal. It can be hard to have our beliefs challenged. We are sometimes taught that negative feelings are warnings from the Spirit, or that they come from the adversary. Please understand that this is not true. Any information that challenges our worldview is going to make us feel this way. It’s completely normal. For example, when you were a kid and you asked me directly to tell you the truth about Santa, you were sad. Learning the truth made you feel badly, but that didn’t make it not true. And even though that was hard at the time, it was better to know the truth once you were ready to hear it. Also, we will often learn of awful things that happened in history. It naturally makes us feel negative emotions when we learn about atrocities, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

Book of Mormon

We are taught in the church that the Book of Mormon is the “keystone of our religion” and that the truthfulness of the religion depends on it, and on whether it is true or not. However, there are many issues with the Book of Mormon that call into question its truthfulness. Issues such as:

  • Known translation errors from the King James version of the Bible appearing in the Book of Mormon (which is supposed to be an ancient text that long pre-dates the King James time period)
  • Biblical passages in the Book of Mormon that match passages in the King James Bible, even though those same passages are corrected in the Joseph Smith translation of the King James Bible (shouldn’t the Book of Mormon contain Joseph Smith’s correctly-translated Bible passages and not the ones he saw fit to correct?)
  • The Book of Mormon claims that the Lamanites came from Jerusalem and, until 2006, the church taught that they were the principal ancestors of the Native Americans (note: my Book of Mormon has this wording on its introduction page). However, it has been proven with DNA that Native Americans originated from Asia and came to the Americas via the Bering Strait (connecting Russia to Alaska) and not via sailing from Jerusalem, as the Book of Mormon claims. DNA studies completely debunk the idea that Native Americans originated from Israel. Since this DNA evidence was discovered, the church now says that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the Native Americans. This is a huge shift in the church’s claims and past teachings on the origins of the Native Americans.
  • There are many items mentioned throughout the Book of Mormon that did not exist in the area or time period that the BOM supposedly took place (i.e., horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, iron). These are called “anachronisms.” It would be like reading a book that supposedly took place in the 1800s, but the characters were all using cell phones and watching TV.
  • There is absolutely no archaeological evidence for any of the people, places or events in the Book of Mormon. Zero. These are major civilizations of millions of people, huge battles with massive casualties (230,000 deaths in the last battle alone), and yet not one shred of evidence has ever been discovered to support any of it. This just does not make sense from a scientific, historical, and archeological perspective.
  • Geographical names and places in the Book of Mormon are strikingly similar to names and places of the area where Joseph Smith lived. This seems oddly coincidental.
  • Several texts that were prevalent in Joseph Smith’s day include similar and even identical themes, stories and names of people/places to themes/stories/names found in the Book of Mormon.
    • Captain Kidd stories (which include Moroni and Camora, like Hill Cumorah, which was spelled Camorah in the original BOM edition)
    • View of the Hebrews, a book published in 1823 (7 years before the BOM) in the county next to Joseph Smith’s county. It was written by a pastor named Ethan Smith, who led a church attended by Oliver Cowdery, who later helped Joseph Smith “translate” and then publish the Book of Mormon. View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon both contain dozens of strikingly similar themes, events, items and people.
    • The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain, an 1819 textbook written for New York state school children (like Joseph Smith), also contains many similar themes and storylines to ones found in the Book of Mormon – even exact phrases and wording. 
    • The First Book of Napoleon, a book published in 1809, is another one that contains many of the same or similar themes, stories and wording as the Book of Mormon.
    • Although not mentioned by the CES Letter, another text that pre-dates the Book of Mormon and has striking similarities to it is The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and other pamphlets written by John Bunyan, who was a well-known author in the late seventeenth century (for example, Bunyan’s story about a character named Faithful is basically the same story as that of Abinadi in the Book of Mormon and even uses several of exactly the same phrases)
  • The Book of Mormon has had over 100,000 changes made to it since its original 1830 edition. These are not just minor or insignificant changes either, but changes that affect actual doctrine and theology. This is curious given that the Book of Mormon is taught in church to be a direct translation from God and the “most correct book on earth.”

Given all of this, it seems clear to me that the Book of Mormon was not an ancient historical record translated by Joseph Smith from ancient golden plates, but rather a fictional book written by Joseph Smith (and probably others, such as Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery) with the help of several books he had access to and ideas that were commonly discussed at the time.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/bom/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/bom-issues and http://www.mormonthink.com/mormonstudies.htm

Book of Mormon Translation

The Book of Mormon was apparently translated by Joseph Smith using a “seer stone.” He would place the stone in a hat, put his face in the hat and then words would appear on the stone and he would read it to his scribe (usually Oliver Cowdery), who would write it down. This is the same stone he used back in his treasure-hunting days, when he would claim to be able to find treasure for people using the stone (note: Joseph Smith was actually convicted of fraud in a court of law for doing this and defrauding people out of money).

Despite this being the method of translation, the church more often teaches that he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. In fact, I did not learn about this head-in-a-hat thing until I was 28 years old and read it in the comment section of a news article. I assumed it was an “anti-Mormon” lie because it sounded so silly and ridiculous.

All the pictures you see at church about this are of Joseph Smith with the gold plates on the table. The church knowingly shows pictures of the translation process that are not accurate. This is misleading and deceptive.

On a less scholarly note, putting your head in a hat is just weird, and a strange way of translating a supposedly sacred and ancient record. It doesn’t seem like a legit method that God would use. In addition, why were the gold plates even necessary if he didn’t even need or use them to translate the Book of Mormon? According to the Book of Mormon, a lot of care and trouble went into not only writing the gold plates but preserving them as well. Why all the trouble if they weren’t needed or used anyway?

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/bom-translation/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/translation and http://www.mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm

First Vision

There are multiple accounts (at least 4) of the First Vision. The accounts contradict each other, and many important details are different depending on which account you read. The only version that Joseph Smith himself wrote down was not written down until 1832, when he was 27 years old. In this version he said he was 15 so that would be 12 years after the vision supposedly happened. There is no account of him having written or even told anyone of this vision, which is strange given how important it is. The differences in the various accounts of the First Vision are significant – his age/date it occurred, his reason for seeking divine inspiration, who/how many beings appeared to him, what they said to him, etc.  

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/first-vision/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/firstvision-overview and http://www.mormonthink.com/firstvisionweb.htm

Book of Abraham

This one was a real biggie for me. The Book of Abraham is a book of scripture that is part of the Pearl of Great Price. It is official, canonized LDS scripture. It came to be when Joseph Smith purchased 4 mummies and some Egyptian scrolls/papyri from a traveling salesman. Joseph Smith said that these were writings from Abraham, written by his own hand, and he translated them word for word into what is now the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. He also provided explanations for the pictures on the papyri. However, every single scholar and historian and Egyptologist that has seen these have unanimously agreed that they have nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham or anything else in Joseph Smith’s “translation”. They were simply common funeral documents. They also date back to an era that is long after when Abraham lived. Joseph Smith got every single thing about them completely wrong. This is an example where we have an actual document that Joseph Smith “translated” which has been proven to be false. He very clearly made it up, which calls into question everything else that he supposedly translated, as well as his basic trustworthiness.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/boa/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/book-of-abraham and http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-abraham-issues.htm


Polygamy has been an issue for me ever since I can remember. It simply doesn’t feel right, nor is it justifiable, particularly given the way it was practiced. It included coercion, manipulation, threats, underage girls, secrecy, dishonesty, etc. None of that is okay and none of that is justifiable in any way. It was simply wrong.

Joseph Smith had at least 34 wives, of which 7 were teenagers and 1 was only 14 years old. He was 37 at the time. This is appalling, now as well as back then. Several of his “wives” were his own foster daughters. 11 of them were already married to other, living men. He used threats and manipulation to get them to marry him (i.e., told them an angel with a sword threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t marry them, told them they and their families would be exalted in heaven if they married him, sent one man away on a mission and then secretly married his wife while she was pregnant). He kept it secret from his 1st wife, Emma and then when she found out he had a “revelation” that told her she would be destroyed (!!) if she didn’t go along with it. This is still in the scriptures, in D&C section 132. He lied in public, denying that he was practicing polygamy. He ordered the destruction of a printing press (which is a federal crime) so that the newspaper wouldn’t expose his polygamy (this crime is the reason he was arrested and sent to Carthage jail, where he ended up being killed).

There are so many just disgusting and appalling details about polygamy in the church but suffice it to say, it was horrific and sexist and abusive. This is sexual predator behavior, and the prophets and church leaders who did it after Joseph were also awful and predatory. It was terrible at the time too – this was not something that was normal or acceptable at the time. It’s a main reason why people were so opposed to the Mormons back then. In fact, the United States was not going to give Utah statehood until they stopped practicing it (hence the convenient “revelation” that finally stopped the practice).

The church does not practice it now in this life. However, it is still a doctrine, still in the scriptures, and is still considered a practice that will be done in the afterlife according to church doctrine. And the church has been very deceptive about it. Polygamy is simply a deal-breaker. Brigham Young’s polygamy was even worse than Joseph Smith’s. I can’t consider anyone a prophet who did what these men did. There is no way it came from a loving God.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/polygamy/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/polygamy-polyamory and http://www.mormonthink.com/joseph-smith-polygamy.htm


This section discusses the doctrines and policies taught and revealed by past prophets which were taught to be false by later prophets. Doctrines such as the Adam-God Theory, Blood Atonement, Polygamy, and the Priesthood & Temple Ban on black members. These were all taught as having come from God and we are taught that the prophet will never lead us astray. So then why were they all later disavowed? Why were members who disagreed with these things at the time considered to be in the wrong? Why are people criticized now when they disagree with the prophet when we know that sometimes they get stuff wrong? What is the point of having a prophet if you can never actually tell when he is speaking as a man and when he is speaking for God?

This section also discusses the lack of spiritual discernment exhibited by the prophets and apostles in the 1980s when a conman and murderer duped them into buying from him a faked historical church document that he created.

If prophets are speaking for God, and God does not change, then why have there been so many changes and reversals in church doctrine and policies? Why was the church so far behind in Civil Rights (they didn’t remove the priesthood ban on blacks until 1978!)? Shouldn’t God have given them a clue a little sooner? Wouldn’t God have not been racist in the first place?

Mom Note: People often say that we shouldn’t expect prophets to be perfect when asked about awful things past prophets have said or done. I want to be clear that I absolutely do not expect perfection from anyone, including prophets. I understand that people are mixed bags, everyone makes mistakes, and all people have moments where they don’t behave their best. We can be generous and forgiving with one another. But I do think it’s reasonable to expect that the ONE man on Earth that God Himself chooses to speak for Him and lead His one true church be at least as good as I would be. And I would never say or do some of the atrocious and harmful things that past prophets have said and done. They set that high standard of claiming to be the Lord’s mouthpiece and representation and I think it’s reasonable to expect them to meet that standard.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/prophets/ and http://www.mormonthink.com/prophetsweb.htm

Kinderhook Plates & Translator Claims

In the 19th century, a farmer in Kinderhook, Illinois manufactured some brass plates with engravings on them and told Joseph Smith that he found them in the ground near his house. Joseph Smith deemed them to be ancient records and proceeded to “translate” them. These were ultimately proven not to be ancient plates, but a 19th century creation. Just as with the Book of Abraham, Joseph was proven wrong.

His track record is not great. He claimed to have translated three ancient records:

  1. The Book of Abraham – proven false (see the section on this above)
  2. The Kinderhook Plates – proven to be a hoax
  3. The Gold Plates – supposedly taken back up to heaven, so it is not possible to prove or disprove their existence or directly compare them to the Book of Mormon

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/kinderhook/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/kinderhook-plates and http://www.mormonthink.com/kinderhookweb.htm

Testimony & Spiritual Witnesses

We are taught in the LDS church that we can receive confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, of the Gospel, that the Church is true, etc. by praying and asking for a confirmation through the Holy Ghost. But feelings and emotions are not a reliable method for discerning truth – particularly when it doesn’t line up with facts. We can feel strong emotions about lots of things – I have had what I consider to be spiritual experiences myself, in and out of the church. I don’t discount those. And I don’t discount experiences that others have with things that resonate with them, make them feel good, etc. The danger is when you use feelings as a substitute for evidence and as a way of determining or proving actual external truth.

I have read and seen videos of people expressing how they know their church is true via the spirit. They are all adamant their church and/or leader is true, and they all feel the spirit so strongly. The problem is that these people were all in different churches. They can’t all be part of the one true church. Using feelings and emotions in this way is simply not appropriate because feelings and emotions can be manipulated, they are based on our individual experiences and beliefs, and any number of factors go into them.

Another troubling aspect in this section are quotes from church leaders advising church members to bear their testimony even if they don’t believe yet because then their testimony will get stronger the more they say it. This strikes me as dishonest and manipulative.

I think it’s important to be in tune with our own feelings and emotions and the voice that is within all of us (we can absolutely call that the Spirit!). We can listen to our inner voice through prayer or meditation. It is appropriate to use that method for determining things that resonate with us, determining how we personally feel about something, helping us know what is right for our own lives. But it is not appropriate to use it as a determining factor for whether something is factually true. That is what critical thinking and actual evidence is for.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/testimony/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/testimonies and http://www.mormonthink.com/testimonyweb.htm

Priesthood Restoration

The church teaches that the Priesthood was restored in 1829 but no claims of it can be found until at least 1832. The accounts of how it came about seem to have been retrofitted and backdated later on. Joseph Smith said he was ordained by Peter, James and John in 1829, but then gets ordained to it in June 1831 by Lyman Wight. Why was he ordained if he had already been ordained?

Mom’s additional thoughts on the priesthood: Why is it only for men? Only men can act for God? That is sexist. Why is the priesthood required for holding most church leadership positions? This automatically disqualifies women. Again, very sexist. Women are severely underrepresented in Church leadership as a result and always ultimately answer to a man while men rarely if ever answer to a woman.  Only 8% of the speakers at General Conference are women. The church tries to justify all of this is all kinds of ways, but at the end of the day it’s simply not okay. Patriarchy in general is not okay. Simply being told that women are valued equally in the Church does not make it so. Actions speak much louder than words.

Want more detail? See https://read.cesletter.org/priesthood/, https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/priesthood and http://www.mormonthink.com/priesthood.htm