Was David Whitmer Superstitious & An Unreliable Witness?

CES Letter quotes David Whitmer:

“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.’” (An Address to All Believers in Christ)

Already Had ApostatizedCES Letter asks, “If David Whitmer is a credible witness,” what about his witness that God was “commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church?”

But that’s not what happened. He never said God commanded him to apostatize. He had already apostatized when this vision happened in June 1838, and he had already been excommunicated from the church. So the voice from from heaven was telling him correctly what excommunicated members should do: separate themselves for a while. That’s what excommunicated members are supposed to do. There is no reason to believe this account is made-up or in any way contradictory to his Book of Mormon witness.

David Whitmer Literally Saw The Gold PlatesCES Letter claims that David Whitmer said in an 1880 interview that the angel with the gold plates “had no appearance or shape.” The interviewer replied, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” David Whitmer said,“Just so.”

This is a fake quote. David Whitmer immediately published a public proclamation refuting anti-Mormon John Murphy’s characterization of the interview:

“It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo Mo. that I in a conversation with him last Summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon… I do now again affirm the truth of all my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; It was no Delusion. What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand.”

David Whitmer always reaffirmed that it was a real, physical experience. He said he saw the gold plates “with his natural eyes.” “I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears.” “Of course they were our natural eyes.”

False AccountsCES Letter tells another phony story:

“David claimed in early June 1829 before their group declaration that he, Cowdery, and Joseph Smith observed ‘one of the Nephites’ carrying the records in a knapsack on his way to Cumorah. Several days later this trio perceived ‘that the Same Person was under the shed’ at the Whitmer farm. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.179” (CES Letter)

This story was not told in 1829 but in 1887, 60 years later. It was told anonymously by someone with the initals E.S. An anonymous story, third hand, 60 years later? Not very convincing. Also, I don’t find anything about the Nephite hiding under a shed. Where did that come from?

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Falsehood CES Letter claims God was “commanding Whitmer to apostatize” in the account of his vision, but God was only telling David Whitmer to move from the Saints after having already apostatized and having been excommunicated.

CES Letter claims David Whitmer told a story about seeing a Nephite hiding under the shed in 1829, but this story doesn’t show up until 60 years later. Also, I don’t find anything about the Nephite hiding under a shed in accounts I could find, just that they crossed paths on the road.

Shifting Goalposts CES Letter uses David Whitmer as an authority to back up their other arguments.

  • They claimed he denied believing John the Baptist passed down the priesthood.
  • They claimed he said the sale of the Book of Mormon copyrighted was promised to be a success.

So quotes attributed to David Whitmer were good enough to back up those claims, but now he is not credible as a witness for the Book of Mormon? He is just a superstitious man with a “common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging”? Then why did you quote him before?

Red Herring CES Letter says the Book of Mormon witnesses “all shared a common worldview of second sight, magic, and treasure digging – which is what drew them together in 1829.” There is literally nothing in CES Letter‘s accounts of David Whitmer to support this character attack. Everything they say is a non sequitur to this claim.
Repetition CES Letter makes this argument much longer than it needs to be by repetition of phrases and words, such as “by his own voice.” But at least it wasn’t as vicious as the attack on Martin Harris.
False Dilemma So what if God did command David Whitmer to leave the city. How is this an “other testimony” different from the Book of Mormon testimony?
Ad Hominem This entire argument is an attack on David Whitmer’s character.
Argument From Ignorance It is very easy to attack a man’s character 200 years after his death, from wacky third-hand rumors from religious competitors who hated him, known liars.
Etymology CES Letter uses present tense to describe a past event. They say superstition “is” what drew them together, rather than “was” what drew them together. The incorrect use of present tense suggests the superstitious mindset applies still to Mormons today .

CES Letter was fine using David Whitmer quotes to support their other attacks against Joseph Smith, but now they attack his character as a credible witness? Why the double standard? Once again, CES Letter is projecting their own issues onto Mormons. We admit that David Whitmer has some credibility problems. He turned against Joseph Smith, apostatized, and attacked the church. But his witness of the Book of Mormon remained consistant, sincere, clear, and credible.

The difference between CES Letter and Mormons when it comes to testimonies is CES Letter cherry-picks anything from anyone to back up their pre-conceived conclusion, while Mormons get both sides of the issue and seek a personal witness to know if something is true, by a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. Did CES Letter get a manifestation to prove that the sale of the Book of Mormon copyrighted had been promised to be a success? Of course not. They read something online and instantly believed it because it aligned with their narrative. It is all about supporting the ever-shifting narrative.

Witnesses Are Important – At first, I was confused why CES Letter devoted so much to attacking the Book of Mormon wintesses. Like most Mormons I never considered the wintesses and anything more than a nice supporting page for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, not really all that necessary. Why does CES Letter attack their characters, almost as much as they attack Joseph Smith’s? Derision is currency for anti-Mormons; people will be turned off if they display too much bitterness so they need to choose their battles carefully.

Daniel C. Peterson gave a great explanation for the importance of the Book of Mormon witnesses. It is not by accident that CES Letter attacks them after having reduced Mormon testimonies as nothing more than emotion. Suddenly, the witness testimonies of the Book of Mormon are like the positive vibes you feel from watching Forrest Gump?

But we are living in a secular Western world, and ex-Mormons tend to become secularists. The witness testimonies are some of the best secular evidences for the Book of Mormon’s truth. It is one thing for a guy to claim visions, but it gains a lot more credibility when a dozen other men swear they the same thing and know it for a fact. Anti-Mormons are reduced to dismissing the entire 19th century New England area as a bunch of superstitious primitives in order to undercut their testimonies.

Skeptics risk a lot by exposing such derision for men who were simply for being witnesses to the Book of Mormon. At this point, the audience must be invested in the anti-Mormon narrative in order to not reject CES Letter as haters. But once they adopt the same kind of derision, it makes it a lot easier for them to hate Mormons in turn. For people who insist on sound physical evidence, I am stunned that CES Letter would attack a man–indeed, the entire 19th century New England civilization–based on such shaky evidence and fake quotes.

Use Opponent As Authority Tactic -This is a popular Marxist tactic that anti-Mormons use. They use Mormonism’s own authorities to discredit the faith, such as an alleged Mormon scholar. What makes this argument powerful is:

  • Deceptively discredits the vast libraries of study on Book of Mormon theology by LDS professionals.
  • Gives more focus to a phony frame that attacks the Mormon church.
  • Divides the ranks of the church.
  • Establishes a frame that demands a clear, modern explanation in the Book of Mormon for every religious issue in existence, and that it be exactly corroborated by every other Mormon source.