The Mormonism Research Ministry was founded in 1979 by Bill McKeever and is Utah based. The following snippets were retrieved from his web site May 2010 under the title:
Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?
The approach is simple: the witnesses were deluded and deceived therefore no one need worry about the contents of the Nephite record. What a relief! Who can be bothered about things like faith, hope, repentance or salvation? Surely the contents of the Nephite record are terrible and a threat to Christians, why else would someone spend so much time and energy trying to disaparage its witnesses?
Mormon apologists like Milton Backman point to Whitmer’s steadfast insistence in his printed testimony and somehow sees this as a validation for actual, physical plates:
“Although there is no reliable evidence that David Whitmer repudiated his testimony as published in the Book of Mormon, a few interviewers assumed that he was contradicting his published declaration when he told them that he saw the plates with his spiritual rather than his natural eyes. Explaining what he meant by this statement, David Whitmer wrote in 1887:
“Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris . . . called it ‘being in vision’. . . .A bright light enveloped us where we were . . . and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration, pp.138-139. Ellipses his).
All this really proves is that Whitmer equated a “spiritual view” as being as natural to him “as it is at any time.” Language that equates things that are “natural” with things seen in a vision should caution any thoughtful person to pause before assuming that any of the witnesses saw physical plates.
Are there words at all that could stave off the squint of the critic? Could Whitmer have stated any clearer his clarification? Rarely do deluded believers endure threats of life and limb like Whitmer did. While Peter denied Jesus, none of the witnesses denied the Book of Mormon.
Emma said she “felt the plates as they lay on a table” wrapped in a linen tablecloth. She said the plates were pliable like thick paper and that they “would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb” (Rough Stone Rolling, p.70). If that is true, then it is certain that the plates were not made of gold since soft metal pages made of gold would not make such a sound.
Who knew that McKeever was an expert on the sounds of the rustling of gold when thumbed? No doubt he also criticized the estimated weight of the plates also. The adjectives “Pliable like paper” should have alerted McKeever to a thinness that would in fact “rustle.”
So What Did the “Eyewitnesses” Witness?
Several LDS sources give the eleven men who bore their testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon the special title of eyewitness; however, it appears doubtful that any of them actually saw the plates apart from a supernatural and subjective experience. While they all claimed to have handled what they were told were ancient plates, they did so while the plates were covered up and not visible. That being case, how is their experience any different from others who also claimed to handle the plates? Such persons include Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy admitted she never saw the plates, but she claimed to have handled what she was told were plates of “pure gold.” As mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith’s wife Emma also claimed that she handled the plates when she moved them to “do her work” in the Smith home, though she insisted that she never uncovered them.
I maintain that if the eleven are called eyewitnesses, why not Lucy and Emma as well? After all, their experiences with what they thought were gold plates are really not much different than that of the eleven. Mormons might find this conclusion troubling since it tends to take away some of the mysterious sensation associated with the accepted folklore, but it is a consistent conclusion when it comes to comparing the experiences of those involved. If Mormons want to insist that a person can’t be considered an eyewitness to the authenticity of the gold plates unless they actually saw them, then there were no eyewitnesses to Joseph Smith’s gold plates.
Mysteriously, McKeever left out the accounts of others (Mary Whitmer, Harrison G. Burgess, Luke Johnson) who saw the plates and the angel, AND never recanted. Or the twenty+ witnesses who wrote or observed the process. After 31 years of “informing the body of Christ” by radio and speaking engagements at “numerous churches, conferences, Bible colleges, and seminaries both in the United States and abroad” the toll of this misinforming will be heavy.
Jesus stated, “He that is not against us is on our part.” (Mark 9:40)
The following warnings are to those who tear down the Book of Mormon:
20 Wo unto them that call good evil and light for darkness!
21 Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight! (2 Nephi 15)
16 Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!
27 Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! (2 Nephi 28)
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3)
26 I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things ye have not taught them; therefore, ye have perverted the ways of the Lord. (Mosiah 12)
34 And wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day; (3 Nephi 28)
5 Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!
6 Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!
7 Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ! (3 Nephi 29)
8 And he that will contend against the word of the Lord, let him be accursed; and he that shall deny these things, let him be accursed; for unto them will I show no greater things, saith Jesus Christ; for I am he who speaketh. (Ether 4)
7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them. (Mormon 9)
[Other Sources: Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses]