Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dishonesty by Mormon Apologists, Case #1: John Gee

In my many years of debating Mormons, many of them have avoided making arguments themselves, instead resorting to simply forwarding articles from Mormon apologist sites like FARMS or FairLDS. Professor John Gee and Professor Michael Rhodes are among the most commonly referenced authors in these articles and a large number of Mormon claims rest on the veracity of these men's presentations of the evidence.  I am usually able to refute the arguments in a couple of sentences, due to the fact that their arguments tend to focus on side issues and weak evidence. In a recent debate, I took the time to verify the references that Mr. Gee used to make a case. To my surprise, I found blatant dishonesty by Mr. Gee in his representation of the evidence. When I pointed this deceit out to a Mormon opponent, he defended Mr. Gee and dismissed the blatant dishonesty. I shouldn't really be surprised, but it did motivate me to make this post in the hopes that Mormons will not simply rely on the propaganda created by Mormon apologists.
Of course, I don't expect you to take my word for it, just as I don't believe one should take Mr. Gee's word at face value. In his article, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri", Mr. Gee warns his readers in the first couple paragraphs of the dangers of hearsay evidence. He states, "the Joseph Smith Papyri need careful treatment since discussions of the situation have generally been plagued by reliance on hearsay evidence or unwarranted assumptions...care thus needs to be taken to separate the eyewitness portions from the hearsay portions of any given witness's testimony." Given this warning, it is implied that Mr. Gee intends to take such care. However, a little further down, Mr. Gee discusses the "eyewitness" testimony by people that viewed the vignette contained in the Hor Book of Breathings prior to the publishing of Facsimile 1. His key witness is a Reverend Caswall, whom Mr. Gee describes as "a non-Mormon openly hostile to Joseph Smith." Mr. Gee claims that Caswall "describes JSP I as having 'that man standing by him with a drawn knife.'"  He goes on to argue that "the existence of the knife has been doubted by many because it does not conform to what other Egyptian papyri would lead us to expect, yet it has here been described by a non-Mormon eyewitness..." That eyewitness testimony, as Mr. Gee described it, would certainly be significant if it was an accurate characterization. Mr. Gee's reference to Reverend Caswall's statements comes from Reverend Caswall's book, "City of the Mormons," which is easily accessible through Google Books. On pages 22-23, Reverend Caswall very clearly attributes the statements describing the knife to a Mormon storekeeper: 
The storekeeper now proceeded to redeem his promise of obtaining for me access to the curiosities...Pointing to a figure of a man lying on a table, he said, "That is the picture of Abraham on the point of being sacrificed. That man standing by him with a drawn knife is an idolatrous priest of the Egyptians. Abraham prayed to God, who immediately unloosed his bands, and delivered him." Turning to another of the drawers, and pointing to a hieroglyphic representation, one of the Mormons said, "Mr. Smith informs us that this picture is an emblem of redemption..."
This is textbook "hearsay" evidence. Reverend Caswall makes it clear that the storekeeper provided the description about the knife and his description of the event suggests that his time with the "curiosities", of which he had no expertise, was quite brief.
So why did Mr. Gee mischaracterize Reverend Caswall's statements, especially after warning his readers of the dangers of mixing hearsay and eyewitness testimony? It is obvious that non-Mormon eyewitness testimony carries greater weight than Mormon eyewitness testimony in supporting Joseph Smith's claims about Facsimile 1. Mr. Gee couldn't find any non-Mormon eyewitnesses, so he mischaracterized Reverend Caswall's testimony to give greater weight to his arguments.
I expect most Mormons who read this to give Mr. Gee the benefit of the doubt and not attribute any dishonesty to his actions. That is certainly a normal response for loyal members of his church. I only ask that Mormons apply more scrutiny to Mr. Gee's articles and not accept them at face value.

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