Overview: If Joseph Got It Right, Who Got It Wrong?
If you’ve been with me for this whole journey, you’ve now read 37 overviews covering a wide range of topics in Mormonism from Joseph Smith’s time as a treasure digger all the way to revelations in the church today. It’s actually hard trying to wrap this up, but I hope I did a good enough job outlining how we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a “true” church of God, and that Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God.
In this overview I want summarize the previous 37 overviews in two different ways. For the first part, I want to again look at what we have to believe in order to maintain a belief that this church is truly the church of God and that the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, etc are the word of God.
On the flip-side, I want to look at a question that is really important: If Joseph Smith did get it right, then who got it wrong? This is a question that I didn’t think about early in my faith journey, but it’s such an important one to evaluating the truth claims of Mormonism. It’s easy for apologists to tell us that Joseph Smith’s claims can be true if we just look at them in the right way, but what they neglect to do is outline what the implications would be beyond the church itself.
What Needs to be True for the Church to be True
In the early overviews I tried to outline what we need to accept in order for the narrative of the church’s truth claims to be plausible. This is an important exercise because in the church we are taught the following: If you sincerely pray, you will receive a spiritual confirmation that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church on earth.
The reality is that we cannot discern the truthfulness of anything by feelings alone, which I tried to outline in the overview on spiritual witnesses as well as the overview that covers personal revelation and discernment. We are often wrong about out “gut feelings,” which is why it’s a sarcastic cliché on TV shows where characters approaching doom will say to each other “I have a good feelings about this.”
I don’t want to make this too long, but I want to outline below some of the key things that have to be true for the truth claims of Mormonism to be “true,” and quickly explain why scholarship and evidence are clear that they cannot be true.
To be clear upfront, these are the items I believe absolutely must be true in order for the different subtopics to be true. There are many other issues, events, and ideas that need to be true for the truth claims of Mormonism to be true, but at some point it’s just splitting hairs and or piling on, so I will focus on some main points for the purposes of this overview and to keep it from getting way too long.
For Joseph Smith to be a Prophet of God
At the end of the day, if Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God everything falls apart, which means I probably should tackle this one last. But the reality is that we have to address it first, because it all begins with Joseph Smith.
First we have to believe that Joseph Smith really had a First Vision in 1820 in which he saw both God and Jesus even as the evidence is clear that he did not believe they were separate beings until the mid 1830s, never wrote any account down until 1832 (and then only claimed to see one personage), and actually revised the Bible to strengthen the idea that they were one instead of clarifying they were separate beings. This doesn’t even get into the evidence that the revivals closest to his area occurred in 1824, which throws the entire timeline of the First Vision into doubt.
We then have to believe that the priesthood restoration occurred with John the Baptist being there for the Aaronic priesthood and Peter, James, and John for the Melchizedek priesthoods. The problem is that we can show using the church’s own documented history that these stories were later creations that were then retrofitted back into the history, even changing the revelations from God to make them fit. Even Joseph Smith was not ordained to a higher priesthood until 1831, two years after he claimed to receive it by Peter, James, and John. To say this is a problem is an understatement given that the church claims to be the only one on earth with the authority to perform these ordinances.
As I stated in the treasure digging overview, Joseph Smith’s treasure digging plays a prominent role in the Book of Mormon that cannot be denied. Joseph’s treasure digging methods were used not just to find the gold plates, but to translate the Book of Mormon as we have it today using the very same stone that he claimed to see buried treasure with.
This means that in order for Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God, we have to believe that treasure digging was a way to actually see lost/buried objects. Even though Joseph Smith never actually was able to retrieve any of the promised treasures, we have to believe that he could at least see them, because as the treasure digging company’s “seer,” we have to believe that Joseph had that ability if we are to believe that he could replicate those methods to both find the gold plates and translate the Book of Mormon.
If Joseph Smith could not see buried treasure, then he could not locate the gold plates as stated, he could not see them through his seer/peep stone when they were left hidden in a log as he told Emma, and he certainly could not translate the Book of Mormon off the very same rock in a hat that he claimed to find buried treasure with.
I realize that one of the apologetic responses is that God was preparing Joseph by letting him think he could see buried treasure with the stone, but that is an argument that still doesn’t make sense because the Book of Mormon itself had a translation method planned that did not require Joseph’s treasure digging or rock in a hat, but Joseph still used the treasure digging methods anyway.
To that point, for the Book of Mormon to be true there had to have been gold plates with “Reformed Egyptian” engraved directly on them. There also must have been interpreters buried with the plates as Joseph Smith claimed to have recovered physical, literal interpreter stones.
The problem here is that the witness testimony is shaky about whether they saw the plates with their physical or spiritual eyes, and because Joseph Smith never even used the plates to translate the Book of Mormon as we have it today the gold plates story has massive problems. Furthermore, the idea of long records being engraved on metal plates is anachronistic, there is no evidence of “Reformed Egyptian,” and the problems with the gold plates supposedly containing material not written prior to Lehi leaving such as Deutero-Isaiah, New Testament material, and the ‘long ending of Mark.’
Beyond the gold plates, however, we still have many other problematic areas that have to be true for the Book of Mormon to be an ancient record. As I outlined in the overviews on biblical scholarship, the Book of Mormon relies heavily on Genesis being a literal, historical account of the creation of the world.
This means that Adam and Eve must be a historical story that occurred 6,000 years ago for the Book of Mormon to be true against all DNA and archaeological evidence, the global flood must have cleared off the Americas for the Jaredites to find it against all evidence that there was no such event, and the Tower of Babel must be a literal event for the interpreters to have been created for the Jaredites.
None of those stories are believed to be literal events by any secular (and quite a few non-secular) scholars, but because the Book of Mormon wrote them in as literal, they all need to be historical as written in the Bible. Furthermore Isaiah must have been written by a single author, God must have revealed to Book of Mormon people a modern idea of Christianity long before Jesus lived, and must have allowed for King James errors to be incorporated into the text.
We also must accept that Jesus came to America to repeat the Sermon on the Mount, including references to Roman Law along with using an Aramaic word Raca – both of which would have absolutely no meaning to those in the Americas.
Then we have to believe that millions of people died in wars that were more massive than anything that could’ve occurred at that time in history, but left absolutely no evidence of their existence. No swords, to massive piles of bones at Hill Cumorah, no shields, no chariots… nothing.
Beyond the Book of Mormon, we can look at some of Joseph Smith’s other prophetic claims to know what must be true for him to be a prophet of God and the list of testable claims is extremely long.
The Native Americans must be the descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon even as DNA and migration evidence is clear that the Native Americans originally came from Asia tens of thousands of years earlier. Not only does the Book of Mormon make this claim, but revelations from God to Joseph Smith confirm this very testable claim.
Adam and Eve must have been in the Garden of Eden in Missouri, which again is contradicted by just about every piece of evidence imaginable which shows humans first came out of Africa. This was a claim that Joseph Smith just happened to make because that’s where the church settled, and in many instances it feels like Joseph Smith couldn’t help himself to make claims that would add to his legitimacy and power as prophet.
For the Book of Abraham even a lost scroll wouldn’t help Joseph Smith because he did translate the characters on facsimile 3, so this would require the *real* Egyptian language to be unknown to us today. We’ll cover this below, but for the Book of Abraham to be right, everything we learned from the Rosetta Stone has to be wrong.
We have to believe that God would reveal a Word of Wisdom to Joseph Smith that was lifted directly from the temperance movement and neglected to tell members to boil water, which would have saved over a dozen lives of early church members from cholera. Furthermore it must be true that tobacco can be used to heal sick cattle while all hot drinks are bad for the body even though coffee has proven health benefits while church approved drinks such as soda and energy drinks do not.
Next we would have to believe that God would give Joseph Smith failed revelations, because we are told in the Bible that if a prophet preaches failed revelation they are not to be feared. With Joseph Smith, however, we have a number of false prophecies such as building a temple in Missouri and the US Government being nothing but a grease spot if they did not give the church protection in Nauvoo.
Then we have to believe that God really sent an angel down to threaten Joseph Smith to start marrying and having sex with women while being unconcerned about false teachings such as members with black skin not being worthy of the priesthood, Adam being our God, or that Native Americans and Polynesians have an identity tied directly to the Book of Mormon.
Again, we can go on all day here, but the point is that a whole lot of things have to be right for Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon to be a true, historical text. If any of these are wrong, everything begins to crumble because it shows that Joseph Smith was making it all up.
But the reality is that every single example above has been shown to be wrong by looking at science, scholarship, and even the church’s own historical records. The foundational events of the church of the First Vision and priesthood restoration are late additions that underwent multiple revisions and retrofittings to adapt to the needs and theology of Joseph Smith at a given time, and the stories in Genesis end up being taken as literal throughout all of Joseph’s works and yet are completely contradicted by the evidence.
These are not small problems – these are issues that undercut the truth of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon right from the beginning. And there is no way to reconcile the evidence with what Joseph Smith taught, which is why scholars can easily and decisively show that the Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham are not historical texts.
If Joseph Smith Got It Right, Who Got It Wrong?
I’ve been told often times that I look only at what the church gets wrong and that I should focus on what the church got right. The reality is that if the church’s foundational truth claims are not true, then it doesn’t matter what they get right. Every religion gets some stuff right, which is where the phrase “What is unique about Mormonism isn’t good, and what’s good about Mormonism isn’t unique” comes from.
But for the sake of argument let’s just assume the church is true. What does that mean for the world as we know it? This is an important way to evaluate the claims of the church, because if they are correct then a lot of fields of study are unquestionably wrong.
In some ways this section is almost like a ‘bizarro’ version of the first part of this overview, because instead of looking at why the evidence is clear that the church cannot be “true,” I want to flip that upside down and assume it is true to see what that would mean for the world as we know it.
This one is fairly straightforward as Joseph Fielding Smith declared:
"If evolution is true, the church is false.” (McConkie, Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith)
We also have the current prophet, Russell M. Nelson, stating the following in 2007:
“to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible… Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.” (Pew Forum)
If the Mormon church is true, then everything we know about evolution is wrong – this is not an area where you can have it both ways.
Science and DNA tell us that homo sapiens have lived for at least 200,000 years, with much evidence pointing to earlier species of humans that have been around for possibly 5 to 7 million years. (NPR, How Long Have We Been Human)
Within the Mormon church we are told that Adam and Eve were the first humans about 6,000 years ago. I’m not sure how much more simple this subject is, and it’s the reason that Joseph Field Smith was so clear in his declaration: If evolution is true, the church is false. On the other hand, if the church is true, then evolution must be false, which means that everything we currently know about the history of evolution, genetics, etc is wrong. There’s no way around it by the direct words of the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church.
The entire premise of the Book of Mormon is to have a record to provide to the descendants of the Lamanites to bring them back to Christ, and the revelations from God to Joseph Smith are clear that the Native Americans are identified by God as Lamanites.
As I covered in the overview on DNA and the Book of Mormon, study after study makes clear that the Native Americans originated in Asia – not Jerusalem. The Americas began being populated tens of thousands of years ago with no interruptions due to a global flood. This is a point that is effectively conceded by the church in their essay, which is why they use the theories of bottleneck, genetic drift, etc to explain how the Book of Mormon got it wrong.
What this means is that the people identified by Joseph Smith (via God) as the descendants of the Lamanites are not descended from Jerusalem, which means the Book of Mormon’s main premise is false.
Just like with evolution, for the Book of Mormon to be true, that means that everything we know about population genetics must be false. While an apologetic response is that the Book of Mormon people were just a small part of a larger community, we would still see some remnants of that in the DNA that’s been tested and, more importantly, the text of the Book of Mormon contradicts that line of apologetics as do the quotes and teachings of the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church.
If the church is true, then everything we have learned about DNA must be false, because it would mean that the very basic study of DNA to understand where we are from is not reliable. That means that every 23 and Me DNA test, Ancestry test, etc is not reliable and is wrong, because if they are right then the church absolutely cannot be true.
As I talk about in the overview on the Tower of Babel and the Book of Mormon, if there is not a literal Tower of Babel then the Book of Mormon cannot be a historical record. This is because the Book of Mormon incorporates the Tower of Babel as a literal event, which means that there is no way to get around the Tower of Babel if it is not a true, historical account. Furthermore, the Tower of Babel story is what leads to the Jaredite story, which is what leads to the interpreters that were are told were buried with the gold plates.
Unfortunately for the Book of Mormon, there are no secular linguists that would support the idea of the Tower of Babel being historical due to the fact that there are languages that were around prior to the Tower of Babel time-frame that went without any confusion and we can see the evolution of languages by studying history.
If the church is true, the Tower of Babel is is true which means that everything we know about the evolution and creation of languages is wrong. Again, this is difficult because we have actual evidence to show how languages have evolved throughout history, but if the church is true then everything we think we know is wrong.
Just as with the Tower of Babel, the Book of Mormon (as well as the Books of Abraham and Moses) require a global flood to be a real, historical event for the scriptures of Mormonism to make sense. The problem again is that just like the Tower of Babel, there is abundant evidence that there was no global flood as I cover in the overview on the global flood and the scriptures of Mormonism.
If the church is true, then once again everything we think we know about archaeology, evolution, etc is wrong. In other words, if scientists cannot date sediment to correctly show that there could not have been an earth altering event like the global flood, then they clearly would have everything else wrong with dating as well.
As I mentioned above, we can now date the arrival of humans in the Americas to 25-35,000 years ago which cannot be true if a global flood wiped them out entirely. We would have records of a massive extinction event in the Americans and there just is not one to be found, nor is there any evidence of a complete change in the population at a specific time.
I know it seems a little too oversimplified, but these are clear truth claims being made by the church and if they are true, these areas of scientific discoveries must be false.
One of the most testable claims of Joseph Smith’s time as prophet was his translation of the Book of Abraham. Because we have the source material for the text, we can compare what Joseph Smith claimed the papyrus said against what Egyptologists know it says as the Rosetta Stone helped crack what was thought to be a lost language.
As we covered in our Book of Abraham translation overview, that new information did not go well for Joseph Smith’s claims to being able to translate ancient languages by the gift and power of God, as Joseph Smith not only got the text wrong, but even translated the characters in Facsimile 3 incorrectly which scholars could evaluate even before the papyrus fragments were recovered after being thought to have been forever lost in the Chicago fire.
For the Book of Abraham translation to be correct, everything we know about the Egyptian language has to be wrong. In other words, the Rosetta Stone must be wrong because the language does not match what the Joseph Smith, through God, told us it would, which means that every other document that has been translated has actually be translated incorrectly because we know that the Book of Abraham papyrus actually translates to the Book of Abraham text.
Again, this is something that would defy any rational, logical thought but is necessary if we are to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Not only would the Egyptian language have to be wrong, but again the dating of ancient documents would be wrong because even the church admits that the papyri fragments date to much later that Joseph Smith claimed they did when declaring that the scrolls were written by Abraham,by his hand, upon papyrus.
The implications of this would again be huge, but absolutely required for the church to be true and Joseph Smith to have been a prophet.
Over the last two hundred years since the church was founded, the advances in biblical scholarship have been massive. We have since learned that Isaiah was actually written by multiple authors, that the original ending of Mark was added on by a later scribe, that Genesis was actually compiled from multiple sources, and that the King James Bible contains many translation errors.
For the church to be true, these advances in biblical scholarship would all have to be wrong. Because Joseph Smith brought parts of Isaiah into the Book of Mormon written after Lehi left, the scholarship behind the idea of Deutero-Isaiah would have to be wrong against all of the evidence that has led to most scholars conceding that Deutero-Isaiah is a later author as well as Trito-Isaiah.
Because Joseph Smith incorporated so much of the King James Bible directly into the Book of Mormon, it would mean that the biblical scholarship that claims those are translation errors must be wrong. It would also mean that Joseph Smith bringing the ‘long ending of Mark’ into the Book of Mormon means that the ending was always part of Mark, but had been lost in the earliest manuscripts but restored later.
It would also mean that the Bible was composed in a codex format before Lehi left, even though scholarship shows that the idea of a codex simply did not exist until long after Lehi left.
Even though scholarship shows that Elias and Elijah are the same person with different translation (one in Greek, one in Hebrew), for Joseph Smith’s vision to receive the keys to the priesthood to be true, it must mean that Elias really was a forerunner that Joseph Smith would’ve called Elias in the temple even though that forerunner would’ve still had another name since Elias would in that case simply be a title.
I could go on all day here, but the point is that everything that we’ve learned about the historicity of the Bible must be wrong for Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God. Again, I know how ‘black and white’ this all feels, but when you claim to be a prophet of God that is restoring the fullness of the Gospel, you cannot have these details wrong when they are told to come directly from God (i.e. this cannot be explained away by 'he was speaking as a man'), which means that biblical scholarship must be completely wrong for the church to be true.
Records on Gold Plates
I’ve covered this before, but the idea that records were written on gold plates in this time is simply anachronistic. There are no records of writings on metal in the Americas, and even in the old world the writings are just tiny amounts of text.
While FAIR Mormon proudly cites the Pyrgi Tablets (pictured above) as evidence for the Book of Mormon, the reality is that those three tables only contain a tiny fraction of what is on the Book of Mormon, which is why we do not have any records of long amounts of text on plates, but on scrolls instead. Those three plates of the Pyrgi Tables only contain about 2000 words of text, meaning that the Book of Mormon would need over 1,000 tables of gold to contain the same amount of text.
If the Book of Mormon is true, not only would a codex have needed to exist long before they began being used, but vast records on gold plates must have occurred. That means that everything we know about record-keeping in ancient times is wrong along with our knowledge of the use of a codex for long records.
Considering that the story of gold plates in the Book of Mormon led to murder to retrieve plates that go against all evidence and that the Book of Mormon was supposedly written on gold plates that would be incredibly anachronistic, we have to acknowledge that if Joseph Smith got it wrong, what we know about the evolution of writing and records is simply wrong.
The Word of Wisdom
When I was an investigator to the church, I was often told about how Joseph Smith knew that alcohol and tobacco were harmful to our health before anyone else could’ve known. I’ve since learned that not only was Joseph Smith effectively lifting the teachings of the temperance movement right next to him in Ohio, but that a lot of the actual text of the Word of Wisdom is just factually wrong.
For example for this revelation from Joseph Smith to be true there must be health benefits to using tobacco to heal sick cattle. This simply is not a use for tobacco and there’s a reason for it – it doesn’t help to heal sick cattle.
We would also see that hot drinks cause health problems such as hot chocolate, coffee, soup, and tea. Instead there are studies that show the health benefits of tea and coffee, while the church’s allowed beverages such as soda and energy drinks carry way more health problems.
If the church is true, then much of what we know about nutrition is wrong even though the evidence only continues to mount against the church’s claims on the Word of Wisdom. Not only does the original text of D&C 89 get it wrong, but the church’s reinterpretations are even worse as the original revelation does not mention coffee and tea even as the church today bans both drinks for arbitrary reasons.
To put it more simply, the church today needs the Word of Wisdom to be upheld by nutrition to be a true revelation, but even in their second interpretation of it they still are getting it wrong. If the church is true, then what we know about nutrition is wrong. That is hard to believe, but it must be so.
Adam and Eve in Missouri
Similar to the DNA/archaeology example, Joseph Smith proclaimed that Adam and Eve were born in Missouri, which contradicts every single piece of evidence that shows that Homo Sapiens came ‘out of Africa.’ (Smithsonian Magazine)
While there are some fossils that show there might’ve (emphasis on might) even been pre-human (not humans but an earlier ancestor to humans) origins in Europe, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that human life began in Missouri.
Again, if the church and Joseph Smith are truly restoring God’s truths, then everything we know about the origins of humans is wrong because they began about 6,000 years ago in Missouri. There’s a reason this isn’t taught much in church anymore, and it’s because it’s absolutely ridiculous against the evidence that we have been able to amass over the 180 years since Joseph Smith made this claim.
Masonic Ceremony and Temple Ceremony
This one is kind of a tricky one to discuss, but as I covered in my overview on the temple, Joseph Smith largely lifted the Masonic ceremony when creating the endowment. During this time, there were many claims that Joseph was restoring the corrupted endowment which was carried all the way from Solomon’s Temple which I detail in the overview on the temple ceremony.
These early teachings have led even FAIR Mormon to admit that Solomon’s Temple had nothing to do with the endowment, but instead was for animal sacrifice:
Q: Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that Masonry came out of the endowment?
KEARNEY: It would be if you believed that Freemasonry has a continuous historical line from King Solomon’s Temple to the current. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to support a continuous functioning line from Solomon’s Temple to the present. We know what went on in Solomon’s Temple; it’s the ritualistic slaughter of animals.
In addition, the Masonic ceremony did not even originate until long after, which means that the endowment ceremony could not have been restoring either Solomon’s Temple or an early, corrupted version of the temple passed down through the Masonic ceremony.
Again, for the temple ceremony to be directly from God, we have to ignore this evidence and declare that Joseph Smith’s teachings of restoring a corrupted endowment ceremony that the Masons carried over is true, and that Solomon’s Temple originally looked like the endowment ceremony that the church introduced about 180 years ago. This goes against everything we’ve learned since Joseph Smith, but again it must be wrong if the temple ceremony was restored by God as claimed by the church.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because it’s hard to know what to make of polygamy from the Bible beyond the text itself, but Joseph Smith specifically states in D&C 132 that God commanded Abraham to enter into polygamy when it was Sarah who told Abraham to take Hagar to conceive a child.
If the revelation of D&C 132 is correct, then much of the Bible is just not accurate in that God commanded these ancient prophets to enter into polygamy when there is absolutely no record of this in the Bible.
We also have to believe that God was so concerned about polygamy that he sent an angel with a drawn sword to make sure Joseph Smith was marrying and having sex with enough young women, but not nearly as concerned about incorrect doctrines on members with black skin, LGBT members, or creating a bank that would fail shortly after it launched.
This is the second to last overview in this project and I realize it’s kind of a weird thought experiment, but I think it’s an important one. On one hand, we need to think about all of the things that had to have happened for Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God (and the Book of Mormon to be a true, ancient record), and on the other hand we have to then think of what the implications of those requirements would be.
If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, then everything we know about many fields of study is simply wrong. All of the fun we all have discussing our DNA tests with 23 and Me and Ancestry is simply not real, because there would be no such thing as 40,000 year old Neanderthal DNA if the Book of Mormon is true.
While the church has begun arguing that there were “pre-Adamites” who lived on earth before Adam and Eve were created by God, the evidence shows that this theory only came about because church leaders (not just within Mormonism) began to realize that the 6,000 year old earth is untenable. This is compounded by Joseph Smith stating in D&C 77:6 that the earth is 6,000 years old and we are in the ‘winding up scene:’
6 Q[uestion]. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A[nswer]. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.
Again, apologists contend that we can just assume Joseph Smith didn’t mean the ‘creative and preparatory period’ but then you have to say that the humans who have existed for millions of years on earth were merely 'preparatory,' paving the way for Adam and Eve. It simply does not work and is insulting to our ability to critically think about these issues using the evidence even if it shows the church is not true.
The bottom line is that Joseph Smith taught ideas that are easily testable, and they came up false. If we want to say that Jospeh Smith's revelations and scriptures are true, as apologists and the church continue to do, then we have to think about what the implications are for those fields of study that they are saying are incorrect. This is basic accounting – if you are going to change the numbers on one side of the ledger, you have to reconcile them on the other. You cannot have an imbalance just to privilege the truth claims of Joseph Smith – it is dishonest to the very core.
We often hear the idea that you can’t prove Mormonism true or false because you can’t really prove religion in general true or false, but the main difference is that Joseph Smith made very concrete and modern truth claims that can be tested. There is simply not getting around the very simple fact that if Joseph Smith and the church are true, then so much that we accept as true and useful information is simply wrong.
While apologists will shift claims such as the Book of Abraham being a revelation and not a translation, Joseph Smith still translated the characters in Facsimile 3 and they are wrong. Joseph Smith declared Missouri the place where humans first dwelt on earth and that is simply contradicted by every evidence we have about the origins and evolution of humans. These are not things we “cannot know one way or the other,” but ideas that we have strong consensus on to the point where they are not questioned by anyone outside of the church.
One final point is that I realize from an apologetic standpoint that you could argue that the above topics could be partially true still even with the church. In other words you could claim that there were humans before Adam and Eve that were “pre-Adamites” roaming the planet and evolution could still be real but only in the preparatory period.
Furthermore I’ve heard arguments that DNA can still be true but that we just haven’t been able to trace Lehi’s DNA which would match. Again I would refer readers to our overview on DNA because this is simply not the case and is dishonest to the science of genetics to use theories such as the “founder effect” and “bottlenecking” to brush aside the massive problems that DNA present.
Finally I know that some church apologists have finally conceded there was no global flood and that it was likely a massive local flood that was presented as global by the early prophets, but again that does not help the Book of Mormon because the church was clear that the Americas were wiped off for the Book of Mormon people. FAIR Mormon states the following:
"Whether the Flood covered the entire earth at once, multiple smaller floods happened over a period of time, a localized flood happened, or no flood at all occurred makes no difference." (FAIR Mormon)
Again if you compare that line with how the church's prophets, seers, and revelators have taught the global flood, you will quickly realize just how messy the Book of Mormon's truth claims become. Please check out our overview on the global flood to see those quotes and to understand how important this event is to the Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham.
In other words, while apologists will try to claim that the Book of Mormon being true doesn’t make all of these things we know false, the reality is that it just does not work when you take these issues in totality. That’s why I’ve been so consistent on pointing out that when we look at Mormonism we cannot take problems in isolation because they are all tied together and it’s the sum of the parts that allow scholars to show why this is a 19th century church entirely created by Joseph Smith.
What makes this even more impossible for the church’s claims of being the one true church of God is that any one of these problems shows that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. There isn’t just one problem that points to the church being false, but so many that I have now written almost forty overview topics and still have many more to add in the future.
As I've pointed out previously, there is not such thing as a "bullseye" when it comes to dating a text that claims to be ancient. A single anachronism tells us that it is not an ancient text, and in the Book of Mormon's case there are anachronisms throughout whether we're talking about biblical scholarship, animals, technology, weaponry, etc. Even if you claim a few "bullseyes" (how could Joseph have guessed it?) regardless of if they hold up under scrutiny, you still have to answer for the many examples that tell scholars this is not a true, ancient text and what that would mean for our current knowledge about these areas of science, archaeology, and biblical scholarship.
It sucks to find out the church isn’t true. The reality is that it would be much easier if it was true because then we would know the church we dedicated time, money, and obedience to lived up to its claims. On the other hand, the more difficult path is to assess the church the same way we would any other religious leader, church, or organization with an open mind to see if what we believed actually holds up. We recently had the current prophet of the church claim that "lax learners and lazy disciples" won't be able to maintain faith, but the harder path is having to change our paradigm because we are willing to diligently research the church's truth claims and change our beliefs due to the evidence we can all access today.
The church and Joseph Smith made truth claims and for us to not verify and assess them would be a disservice to ourselves because we were given brains and the ability to think for a reason. If we ignore the problems with the church’s truth claims, that is no longer faith in what we cannot see but a disbelief in any other alternative. I know it’s difficult and I know it’s shocking when you start to peel the layers back, but Joseph Smith made specific, testable claims and now they have to live with the very basic and obvious fact that their claims have been proven false.
I have one more overview before I wrap up the project (for now), and I want to thank everyone that has been hanging in there with me on this journey. I’ve learned so much and I’ve had so many great conversations with those who have left the church, those who are on their way out, and those who are nuanced believers over the last few months and I want to thank every one of you that has reached out.
The last topic will be a summary of everything covered in these first 38 overviews along with what I’ve learned about how (and how not) to handle talking about this information with believing family members and what to do now that we have all of this new information. You can learn from all of the mistakes I made in talking to family members as well as some advice on finding community outside of the church to help you navigate what can be a pretty stressful time in processing all of this new information.