In 2009, FAIR continued to bash MormonThink (MT) after MT responded to FAIR's review of MT. This time, it has focused on one specific topic involving the Urim & Thummim. FAIR reviewer, Keller, published the following blog on August 28, 2009. Several people, including a MT contributor, made comments to FAIR's blog until eventually Keller stopped responding to inquiries about his thoughts on this issue. Original available here: Link is here.
Although Keller stated that his opinions are not necessarily shared by FAIR, he does list his views on an official FAIR blog and not merely on his own personal blog.
Here are FAIR's comments. Responses that some MT contributors at the time gave are in blue. The original comments by FAIR and contributors to MT are indented.
Note: The discussions sometimes got a bit 'heated' by some of the more spirited contributors to MT and FAIR as they are very passionate about their viewpoints. We have left the original conversations intact, acknowledging that the current contributors of MT would take a less aggressive tone. The same may be true for the FAIR contributors as well.
by Keller on August 28th, 2009
FAIR announced its review of MormonThink.com during its annual conference held the first week of August. A response to that review was recently posted at that site. What follows are some of my observations, which are not necessarily shared by other FAIR volunteers, about the response.
MormonThink does a good job at posing questions to their readers to get them to reconsider the plausibility of LDS truth claims. The authors, a coalition of Mormon and ex-Mormon skeptics  (some operating under a cloak of anonymity while accusing the Church of less than complete transparency), find previous faithful attempts by unofficial apologists to answer similar questions “unsatisfactory.” A FAIR review demonstrated that MormonThink's own predominately negative answers were ill-informed, highly slanted (not objective as advertised), and fail to more than superficially engage faithful answers. MormonThink's response to FAIR's rebuttal is a mixed. On one hand, the response shows a commitment to accuracy and correcting some of its more egregious errors. On the other hand, the response justifies its failure to take FAIR more seriously by making an appeal to authority. MormonThink seeks the attention of General Authorities and they believe FAIR is usurping the Brethren's role. This suggests to me that they are less concerned about answers and more concerned about getting attention for dissent.
FAIR does not speak for the church in any official capacity as they admit on their site. It is reasonable to request official positions from the church leaders, instead of from a loosely connected collection of members that have no authority to speak for the church and frequently disagree themselves. Church leaders are supported by tithes and donations of church members. It is not too much to ask that church leaders clarify confusion caused by contradictory and incorrect statements they offer to the public.
While in the future the MormonThink site might correct misinformation and engage Mormon scholarship more adequately, it will likely remain slanted towards convincing their readers to come to negative conclusions about Mormon truth claims.Nevertheless, the response to FAIR's review is not all that encouraging that the writers will make rapid progress in first two areas. Let us look at a deficient response to one of the questions FAIR reviewed that MormonThink initially posed. The question is in italics, FAIR's response in bullet points,MormonThink's rejoinder is blockquoted, and my discussion follows. I invite commenters on this blog to address anything that I fail to in MormonThink's rejoinder.
If the angel did indeed take back the gold plates and the urim and thummim from Joseph when Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages, he would have returned the urim and thummim to Joseph when he returned the gold plates to him, instead of having Joseph finish the translation using a common stone he found when digging a well.
- If Joseph was perpetuating a scam, why would he use a method—the seer stone in the hat—that would be open to ridicule and misrepresentation? If he could perform the impressive feat of producing the Book of Mormon in two months, why not do it with eyes closed in a solemn voice to impress everyone? There are too many hypothetical points to consider to allow such a criticism carry much weight.
- The critic overlooks the fact that the translation process was also a spiritual growing experience for Joseph. Granted, he initially required the Nephite interpreters and was thrilled with them. But, with practice, his abilities increased to the point that he did not require the use of the physical interpreters or seer stones.
- Joseph did not regard the stone as “common”—he and the early saints referred to both the Nephite interpreters and his other seer stones as Urim and Thummim. Joseph was unable to translate when Martin Harris secretly swapped the seer stone with a common stone.
Staring into a dark hat pulled over one's face, looking into a rock, could be characterized as “a spiritual growing experience” or it can also raise questions because it looks like a lot of hocus pocus to many intelligent, reasonable and objective investigators. Most of the fair minded and good people in the world would likely agree that it looks like a scam in progress. So it's a reasonable question and the rock-in-the-hat-process will be subject to ridicule and critical questioning until it can be demonstrated that it is a viable method of translating ancient documents. We are unaware of any credible scholars or linguists who use this method. Church employees who provide translation services indicate that they do not use the rock-in-the-hat-method either.
It is also important to point out that early scribes of J Smith describe his activities as a reader, not a translator. He saw English text on the rock in the bottom of his hat, the plates were never in view, and he dictated English sentences as they appeared. Those who reported this reading method were Emma Hale Smith (wife), Isaac Hale (father-in-law), Michael Morse (brother-in-law), Martin Harris, and Joseph Knight Sr.(For Primary sources and an excellent discussion of this issue, Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Signature Books, pages 2-5, and footnotes).
The responsibility to prove that J Smith was actually translating something is left with the church leaders. At this point, the accumulated evidence after 180 years indicates that there were no golden plates, that Smith translated nothing, and God did not put sentences in English on the rock in his hat. The first edition Book of Mormon provides ample evidence of that, due to the thousands of grammatical errors and contradictions. An admission by Smith that this is true is evidenced by his campaign to clean up the book's grammar and publish a revised and heavily-edited version in 1837.
Smith's edited book, from 1830 to the present, has corrected approximately 4,000 errors in: (1) punctuation, (2) uneducated grammar (they was a runnin), (3) editing out obvious mistakes, and (4) changing 2 Nephi 11 to coincide with Smith's evolving belief system about God. The Book itself is why critics and skeptics wonder why Smith referred to the Book of Mormon as the “most correct book of any on earth.”Thousands of revisions, is not evidence in favor of J Smith's claims. And investigators should not be belittled if they choose to keep asking “Did J Smith translate golden plates?” It's a reasonable question.
If God gave J Smith revelations about the ancient Americas, why does the Book of Mormon reflect 19th century American myths about American Indians? Why don't the large Nephite cities in the Americas turn up Nephite artifacts to support the book's claims? Why was Smith wrong about America's language, culture, mode of transportation (horses and chariots), flora and fauna? Why do the errors in the King James Version of the Bible that J Smith used (1796 version), show up in the Book of Mormon? Why do unofficial apologists put BOM geography on coasters to be rolled all over the Americas to try and find a place for them that makes sense? The official authorities say the BOM events occurred exactly where Smith said they did – North and South America.
Apostle Marion G. Romney reminded zealous apologists like FAIR to remember this. “I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.' Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don't need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78.)How do you reconcile the counsel from an esteemed apostle with all the errors in the foundational sacred text of Mormonism?
FAIR has no valid reason to complain that members ask legitimate and reasonable questions regarding the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, especially when unofficial answers contradict the answers of the general authorities and past presidents of the church. Most of the humans on the planet who have considered the church's claims as presented by the missionaries, also find them without merit.
I agree that FAIR shouldn't complain when legitimate questions are asked. As a volunteer who spends many hours each week answering Ask the Apologist questions, I am concerned withproviding faithful and factual answers. I am always looking for ways to improve my ability to help those who have encountered criticism that may shake faith. However when questions assume invalid premises, they are not necessarily legitimate.
In the FAIR review, a corrective was suggested for one such faulty assumption. FAIR pointed out that Joseph did not consider his seer stone “common.” MormonThink defends the question's premise by arguingthat Joseph's seer stones share more in common with ordinary rocks than with the Nephite interpreters. They point out (using prejudicial, anachronistic language) that the Urim and Thummim  was found in a box and another stone used in translation was found in a well). Later they point out accounts that the box was found by Joseph receiving a vision with the aid of a seer stone. These two data points (its miraculous finding — though MormonThink would have their readers believe it is hocus pocus– and its intentional burial as a relic) suggest that the Nephite interpreters are to be considered uncommon.
However MormonThink has not been thorough in their analysis of the circumstances of which Joseph's seer stones were found. There are accounts that he miraculously found both his white and brown seer stones through seer stone aided visions .
FAIR's reference is this:
 One such account is quoted in Mark Ashurst-McGee's A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet,” (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000) p. 202 “Preside[n]t Young also said that the seer stone
which Joseph Smith first obtained He got in an Iron kettle 15 feet under ground. He saw it while looking in another seers stone which a person had. He went right to the spot & dug & found it” Wilford Woodruff's Journal 5:382-3. Ashurst-McGee introduces and analyzes many other accounts of Joseph finding his seer stones. A summary statement is found on page 198. ” These are the methods Joseph Smith used in his acquisition of seer stones. He looked into a neighbor's seer stone to find his first seer stone-a brown rock. Then Smith used this stone to find a white stone. This second stone is the well known seer stone that was unearthed on the property of Willard Chase under the pretense of digging a well. Next, at the angel Moroni's direction, he used his white stone to find the Nephite “interpreters”-a large pair of clear, white, seer stone spectacles. Joseph Smith's gradual development as a seer can be traced in part through his succession of seer stones and seer stone discoveries.”
One seer stone was used to find another seer stone? Seer stone A leads to seer stone B which leads to seer stone C, etc.? Wasn't the first ‘seer stone' powerful enough? Joseph needed another one? What magical properties did the first one lack? God demanded a different rock out of which to speak to Joseph Smith? Reasonable people find this kind of superstitious justification absurd. This is why the Joseph Smith story is rejected by the vast majority of investigators. It isn't because they lack faith.Reasonable people reject Mormonism's claims because they are ridiculous when presented in this manner.
On FAIR's site, they state the following “Clearly, devices from the Lord when directed by an angelic messenger (such as the Nephite interpreters) would outrank a seer stone found on one's own. “Link is here.
Are we to believe that Moroni punished the repentant Joseph by giving him an inferior seer stone and keeping the ‘more powerful' Nephite interpreters after the 116 pages were lost?That doesn't make sense, considering Joseph was forgiven and all. Are we to believe God made Joseph use a weak seer stone, then use progressively more powerful seer stones until he finds the ultimately powerful seer stone of all, the ‘Nephite interpreters'; and then God demotes him and forces him to use an inferior seer stone after he loses the 116 pages? How nonsensical and bizarre. This makes God and J Smith sound like backward, uneducated, New England con artists. Why do all of the subsequent prophets have to make do without getting to use any seer stones? Actually they have Joseph's seer stones but they don't seem to work anymore. It is no wonder that FAIR's “seer stone theory” hasn't passed muster with the official correlation committee for church curriculum.
Joseph Fielding Smith's Comment
Even, the 10th president of the church finds it unreasonable that Joseph would use a seer stone instead of the ‘original' Urim and Thummim:
"While the statement has been made by some writers that the Propher JS used a seerstone part of the time in his translating of the record, and information points to the fact that he did have in his possession such a stone, yet there is no authentic statement in the history of the church which states that the use of such a stone was made in that translation. The information is all hearsay, and personally, I do not believe that the stone was used for this purpose.
It hardly seems reasonable to suppose that the prophet would substitute something evidently inferior [to the U&T] under these circumstances. It may have been so, but it is so easy for a story of this kind to be circulated due to the fact that the prophet did possess a seerstone, which he may have used for some other purposes."
Doctrines of Salvation vol.3 pg 225-226
For the brown stone (the stone most attested to in the latter stages of the translation process), there are indications that it was buried as a relic. So while the Nephite interpreters have a more storied history and finding, this criteria MormonThink suggests does not sharply distinguish one set of seer stones as being common in contrast to the other set. Both discovery sequences tend to set both sets above commonly found stones, however.
The idea that any of the seer stones, not included in the stone box, are some sort of relics and not just common stones is pure fantasy. Willard Chase kept the stone they (Willard, Joseph and Hyrum) found digging the well because it was found on his father's property (Mason Chase). Then when JS wished to borrow the stone Willard let him borrow it. Chase later tried to get his stone back but JS wouldn't give it to him. To say this stone was an "ancient relic" is a desperate attempt to salvage the story. All of the contemporary accounts tell the story above with slight variations, but nothing significant differs.
FAIR apologist Keller contends that the other seer stones that Joseph used were not common stones but were “relics”. Further down in FAIR's blog, he says in his reply to Brian Johnson that these relics are best called “Native American artifacts” - just like the tomahawk I got at the fair when I was 8 years old.
When asked whether any of the seer stones that were Native American, but not Nephite, would still have 'seering' abilities, FAIR responds “While I believe that Mormon prophets can truly act as divinely authorized prophets, I am less concerned about what status or legitimacy I should grant to these outside traditions. You could say I am a priori agnostic about miracles reported within other traditions.”
This sounds like the answer is No (although in typical FAIR fashion, they give a long answer to a yes or no question perhaps so they can argue either side later).
Native American artifacts or Nephite artifacts
To expound on FAIR's theory that Joseph's seer stones were not common stones (excluding for now the ‘interpreters' that came with the plates), we offer the following analysis:
If the stones were “Native American artifacts” and only the Mormon prophets could use seer stones, then how could these stones possibly be considered special or magical in any way to the Native Americans? Native Americans do not regard these New England rocks as seer stones. My office assistant (Seneca Tribe) listened patiently to FAIR's explanation, rolled her eyes, laughed, and said, “You actually believed that (expletive)?!? To translate, Joseph's magic rocks were nothing other than ordinary rocks, and any attempt to make them seem magical, special, or sacred is ridiculous.
If these Native American Artifacts were Ancient Nephite relics, then the BOM must have taken place in the New York area instead of Central America or South America, a position FAIR supports. If the BOM took place in the New York area, then FAIR's explanation multiplies the problems and contradictions, which is why most modern apologists strongly believe that the BOM took place outside of the United States' geography. For over 150 years Mormon leaders and apologists supported the opposite theory – that Nephites and Lamanites inhabited North America.
Either answer has serious problems associated with it that FAIR does not address. When pressed on these points by a poster, FAIR apologist Keller terminated his blog exclaiming “I wish I had more time or inclination to explore some of those questions.”
FAIR gave an account of how one of these stones was reportedly found in an iron kettle. So the question remains, why would Native Americans bury a rock in a kettle if that rock could not perform for them since they were not “divinely authorized prophets”? And if the Nephites had put it there, how does FAIR explain that it was buried in New York if the BOM events did not take place there? Of course no one knows what happened to the big American Indian kettle. Maybe Moroni took that back too.
Why no stone box?
The "real" urim and thummim was carefully preserved by the Nephites, along with the gold plates, in a specially-made stone box to be hid from the world but made to allow easy access when they were to be used again by the prophets of the Restoration. But how were Joseph's other seer stones preserved? The brown stone was reportedly found on Willard Chase's property 20-30 feet underground. Does this sound like it was carefully put there by an ancient civilization that revered this stone? It was embedded in the ground to blunt the edge of shovels, just like billions of other rocks – hardly a special resting place for the sacred rock.
Another stone was supposedly found in an iron kettle. This is pretty obscure reference. How many people have even heard of an “iron kettle” from church history? Assuming the account is accurate, how would we even know that the stone didn't just happen to be a stone that was naturally in the ground by this kettle? And of course the iron kettle is nowhere to be found and not mentioned in any official church history.
These quality answers to reasonable questions are the result of church leaders who cannot answer questions themselves. No wonder the Mormon seer stone story is the butt of so many jokes (South Park).
Seer stone used by Joseph's neighbor
Another FAIR source above states “He [Joseph] looked into a neighbor's seer stone to find his first seer stone-a brown rock.” Isn't that a problem? His neighbor used a seer stone also? How could another person who is not a “divinely authorized prophet” possibly be able to use a seer stone? Like the Native Indians that FAIR suggests buried these seer stones, how could Joseph's neighbor use a seer stone? The rock would be like any other ordinary rock to him. Did his neighbor ever find anything using his seer stone? He was probably like Joseph in that he may have used a seer stone but never ever, ever found any treasure with it – despite years of trying to use it for such. FAIR's explanation is a statement about the people that Smith's treasure hunting family associated with – other highly superstitious and backward folks who believed that ordinary rocks could produce visions of subterranean treasure.
More on William Purple.
One of the links Keller referenced was from William Purple. Keller states that this “gives perhaps the most colorful account of finding the brown, egg-shaped stone.” If FAIR accepts this as accurate, then what are we to make of this account also reported by William Purple in the same source provided by FAIR: Link is here.
Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel. on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach, After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war, against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or of some untoward mental emotions was the cause of their failure.
In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness, might be seen making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.
What a picture for the pencil of a Hogarth! How difficult to believe it could have been enacted in the nineteenth century of the Christian era! It could have been done only by the hallucination of diseased minds, that drew all their philosophy from the Arabian nights and other kindred literature of that period! But as it was declared under oaths in a Court of Justice, by one of the actors in the scene, and not disputed by his co-laborers it is worthy of recital as evincing the spirit of delusion that characterized those who originated that prince of humbugs, Mormonism.
FAIR is guilty again of cherry-picking their sources, rather than giving them in full context. FAIR would have us believe that William Purple is credible when he discusses finding the seer stone, but is mistaken when he offers the account of Joseph and the sinking treasure. FAIR uses the same dishonest tactics when it offers the BOM witnesses' testimonies but ignores the same witnesses when they admit that they saw nothing with their physical eyes – only their spiritual eyes (imaginations).
In arguing against a data point of Martin swapping stones on Joseph caused him to not be able to translate, the MormonThink writers reverse their premise that the stone was common. The stone was apparently distinguishable enough for Joseph to detect the switch at the bottom of a “dark hat” that he reportedly used in a manner to eliminate all outside light.
The rock was common. Common, ordinary rocks do not all look exactly alike. Joseph would see the stone first as he was burying his head in his hat. Try it yourself. Put an object in a hat and you can identify it before putting your face in the hat.
MormonThink also suggests that Joseph may have used the seer stone as a focusing device without addressing why the same would not be true of his use of the Nephite interpreters (if so, by this criteria both devices would be equally common or uncommon.)
There is no reliable evidence that the spectacles - the urim & thummim that attached to a breast plate, which came with the gold plates in the stone box, ever existed. The seer stones, that MT insists were ordinary rocks, were found in the ground just as ordinary rocks are when digging. That's a significant difference.
I get the impression that the use of the hat is also used to support the notion that a seer stone might be common, in contrast to the interpreters. Accounts are mixed, but the majority that comment on the use of the spectacles in detail also indicate that Joseph put them in a hat to translate as well .
The original account said that the seer stones were embedded in a silver bow to be worn like spectacles and were to be attached to a breast plate so it wouldn't make much sense to bother including a big, bulky object like the breast plate in the stone box if it wasn't needed. (How did that big bulky piece of equipment fit in the small stone box anyway?)
But if the seer stones from the Nephite interpreters could be easily detached, why wouldn't the angel have given these seer stone back to Joseph? FAIR stated “Clearly, devices from the Lord when directed by an angelic messenger (such as the Nephite interpreters) would outrank a seer stone found on one's own.” Wouldn't it make more sense for the angel to give Joseph the most powerful seer stones, for the most correct book?
The brown seer stone was found by Joseph and Hyrum when they were digging a well on Willard Chase's property and not provided by the angel. Willard Chase's well was not an angel. Can we agree on that?[FAIR, the unofficial spokesmen would have us believe the white stone was the real magic rock, but credible historians such as Michael Quinn, Dan Vogel and B.H. Roberts say it was the brown one.]
Another distinction that MormonThink appears to make is that the Nephite interpreters were in Moroni's possession (giving the use of that object a sense of divine approval) while God (or any rational, objective being) would not approve of the use of a seer stone. Later in the response they cite agreement with FAIR to put stock in the accounts that Joseph saw the location of the plates in vision. However they fail to bring up accounts that Moroni instructed Joseph as to the plates' location .
MT does not claim to know if the Smith's brown rock (or white rock) was used to locate the imaginary plates but we do list that possibility on the MT website. It's shown to provide further evidence that the brown rock found in Chase's well was regarded by Joseph and early Mormons as the urim and thummim.
When they do bring the issue up elsewhere on their site they try to force their readers into forming a false dichotomy between the two data points, whereas FAIR synthesizes the two ideas. The result is that Moroni condoned the Prophet Joseph's use of a seer stone. Once again, while MormonThink is entitled to their own opinions, they have failed to responsibly engage data and arguments that challenge their position. A more important data point that is ignored is found in accounts that Moroni took possession of Joseph's seer stones after the loss of the 116 pages (there is one account Joseph got in trouble on another occasion as well). So both the Nephite interpreters and seer stones were in Moroni's possession and it could thus be argued that both sets of devices were used under Moroni's supervision and hence both were used with divine approval.
There is no convincing evidence to prove that Moroni exists, or that he took back all the different rocks after the loss of the 116 pages. The accounts given in the church (2008 Sunday School manual on Joseph Smith (Chapter 5) only say that Moroni ‘took the urim and thummim' - not every single seer stone Joseph ever possessed. If Joseph had a favorite rock that he found years before the BOM was translated, such as the one he and Hyrum found on Willard Chase's property, why would the angel take that too instead of just the stones he gave Joseph as Moroni had nothing to do with him finding those seer stones? This is FAIR's speculation and not supported by the church. FAIR is reaching. It makes FAIR sound a little desperate.
Joseph Knight also indicated thatJoseph Smith looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry following Moroni's command.  Reference
Does FAIR actually think that mentioning that “Joseph Knight also indicated that Joseph Smith looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry” actually strengthens their argument about using stones? Just think about what they are saying for a minute. That someone looked at a rock to see who he should marry? Doesn't that sound strange to you? Silly me, I actually looked into my heart to see who I should marry when I could have consulted a brown or white rock dug out of my backyard.
Perhaps that explains polygamy. Maybe the rocks told Joseph he should marry other men's wives.
Later the MormonThink response asks why Joseph didn't use his seer stones to locate the lost manuscript, oblivious to the likelihood that his seer stones had all been taken away. This further illustrates that MormonThink asks questions for the rhetorical purpose of convincing their readers of an absurdity, when the real problem is that the question assumes facts not in evidence. When these types of non-legitimate questions accumulate, it seems clear to me that they are expressly designed to raise doubts and asked not for sake of intellectual exploration. We see very little attempt to answer such questions beyond the citation of a few pages of Grant Palmer's critical book.
The question is a logical extension of FAIR's unofficial claims. Again, this is only FAIR's theory that Moroni took back every seer stone Joseph ever owned prior to this time, regardless of where he found them. It's also at odds with the church's current teachings. The idea that the dark brown stone was taken and then returned is pure fantasy. It actually makes Smith's claims less believable.
The response acknowledges, but fails to engage the brief response that FAIR offers for Joseph using different objects during the translation process. FAIR response deserves more consideration as does Mark Ashurst-McGee's A Pathway to Prophethood. Brant Gardner's FAIR conference address is also a valuable contribution. MormonThink makes no attempt to try to understand why rational, objective people in Joseph Smith's time would not automatically consider Joseph to be a scam artist. They appeal to presentist values to condemn Joseph Smith. Making comparisons with translations done by modern Church employees in a non sequitar. Modern church employees work with modern languages that they can learn from living people
Most people in Smith's day did regard Smith as a conman or gullible mystic. This is not presentism or conjecture. It is called objective history. Modern LDS members, in the official church curriculum, are taught that Joseph used a urim and thummim that came with some golden plates to translate the BOM. There is no mention of rocks found in wells and iron kettles, owned by neighbors, etc.
MT again calls on the official spokesmen, the leaders of the church, who are paid sacred tithing dollars, to speak publicly and provide clarity on controversial issues they insist are the most important truths in the world.
The nature of Book of Mormon's translation as Joseph's role as a translator is an interesting question to explore, but this is tangential to the originally posed questions. Yes investigators should feel free to ask such a question, but I have seen no indication that MormonThink is equipped to provide answers.
The only people that can provide official answers are the General Authorities of the church. Since the church refuses to address this area in any detail, MT provides analysis and it fairly provides links to many other sites such as FAIR and FARMS and critic's sites also so readers can view their opinions. Since no one site or book can be truly comprehensive on a subject like seer stones, inviting readers to view multiple websites to gain all perspectives and analyze all the data out there seems like the best approach, which is what MT does. It's more fair than FAIR's approach of cherry picking evidence provided out of context.
There is a nice body of literature that studies the subject that MormonThink writers show no sign of mastering. In consulting these, they would realize the data point they obtain from Palmer from multiple witnesses is among the least important ones to take into consideration about the translation process. The witnesses can neither report, first hand, what Joseph saw; nor is it likely that he told them given his reservation about describing the process beyond it being done by the gift and power of God. Therefore the accounts of Joseph seeing English text that tightly corresponded to characters on the plates is a matter of conjecture in those accounts.
But MT's “data points” are found in the official church curriculum. The members of the church, as well as FAIR, take great stock in the testimonies of witnesses regarding the gold plates and the angel, so why should these very same witnesses be ignored when they testify of the translation details? Why shouldn't their testimonies supporting James J. Strang, whose plates they testified that they saw and handled too? If the witnesses cannot be trusted as witness to the translation process when they were with Joseph as he translated, why should they be believed when giving testimonies that FAIR happens to support? Tell it all and let readers decide for themselves.
Much more important is analysis of the received text itself. If Joseph was dictating text, why would the person or mechanism responsible for producing the English text care about punctuation if neither Joseph or his scribe were? Not even Oliver Cowdery, though a school teacher, was concerned much about grammar at the time according to one account . More can be said of Joseph's use of the word of translation, which had a wider connotation in 1830 or more could be said about speculative models that have been proposed about the translation process. I do not find MormonThink to be a helpful resource for someone investigating these issues.
Why would punctuation be important? Ask yourself why you all at FAIR use punctuation. Silly apologists! Try eliminating all punctuation from now on in all your articles and you'll find the answer to your own question. In addition, if punctuation were not important, why was it added to the book in 1837 by Smith, Cowdery and others feverishly working to correct the hundreds of mistakes in the 1830 version? What next? Correct grammar wasn't important either? FAIR would have people believe that the God who inspired Smith was incapable of grasping the basics of English. (I confess, like God I do too.) Fortunately many others do find the MT site useful. We will continue to bring up credible issues, provide links to other sites discussing the issues, and let readers decide what makes the most sense.
 While the author of MormonThink's rejoinder prefers to be considered a skeptic to being considered a critic, it is clear that the result of this professed skepticism is to consistently take a position against the Church of Jesus Christ's truth claims. The skeptic in me believes that the few exceptions to that trend is primarily a strategy to gain credibility for their overall critical agenda. If MormonThink was truly more of a skeptical than critical site, they would spend a comparable amount of text introspectively scrutinizing their own positions and assumptions.
 MormonThink uses the term Urim and Thummim interchangeably with the Nephite interpreters. They have an article that makes this mistake in analyzing a quote from Lucy Smith and accuse FAIR of contradicting a 2008 manual containing that quote. However, it is clear the early saints sometimes used the term Urim and Thummim to refer to Joseph's seer stones. One example comes from David Whitmer:“Finally, when Smith had fully repented of his rash conduct, he was forgiven. The plates, however, were not returned, but instead Smith was given by the angel a Urim and Thummim of another pattern, it being shaped in oval or kidney form.” “The Book of Mormon;' Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1885, 3 cited in John Welch as the 93rd of 203 translation accounts in his compilation found in Opening the Heavens. Note this account challenges another premise found in the original question, that of Moroni returning the plates.
Rather than take on MT's positions, FAIR would rather split hairs about skeptics and critics. They regard critics as having shady motives. MT states that their motive is to ask valid questions. Of course they sound critical to FAIR. They cannot abide fair criticism or skeptical reviews of their contradictory and errant “answers.” We remind readers that FAIR cannot speak for the church in any official capacity. That MT bothers to exchange views with them ought to be considered a compliment.
FAIR often cherry-picks its sources. They cite the source above to show that Moroni did not return the plates after the 116 pages were lost yet ignore the more numerous references that show the plates were returned such as the accounts in JS-History or this account by Brigham Young describing how the plates were returned by Joseph and Oliver:
Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room.(Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. 19:38)
FARMS disagrees with FAIR
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute also disagrees with FAIR on this point. This was FARM's reply when a MT member asked them whether Moroni returned the plates after the 116 pages were lost:
My understanding is that Moroni did return the plates to the Prophet after his period of repentance.
XXXX (name deleted for privacy by MT)
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
FAIR disagrees with FAIR
Fellow FAIR apologist, Michael R. Ash on his website said the following (emphasis added):
Eventually, Joseph dictated 116 pages of text. Martin begged Joseph to let him take the pages to show his wife who was skeptical of the entire venture. After repeatedly petitioning the Lord -- who initially told Joseph "no," Martin took the pages to his wife and ended up losing the translation. Joseph was reprimanded and the Lord took away the plates, the Interpreters, and Joseph's ability to translate. When the plates were restored, so was Joseph's gift and the remainder of the Book of Mormon was likely translated by way of the seer stone.
Reference: Mormon Times
So both an official FARMS apologist and a fellow FAIR apologist disagrees with Keller. FAIR apologist Keller said the plates were never returned to Joseph which helps him explain why the plates were not used in the translation process. But the FARMS reference manager and also a fellow FAIR apologist Michael Ash both say that the plates were restored to Joseph!
And what of everything else Joseph saw using the stone?
We know the stone used by Smith in the hat was used both to "translate" the BOM and also to seek treasure. If these guys really believe that Smith could see things in this single stone found in the Chase well, then it follows that they believe that Smith could not only see the BOM writing on the stone but ALL the other things Smith claimed to be able to see in this stone.
Some of the crazy things Smith claimed to see in his stone are listed in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, pages 184-191. FAIR, do you believe Smith could see two Indians guarding a treasure or gold and silver bars and treasure chests moving beneath the earth? And how come Smith never found any treasure using the stone? (aside from the fact that the treasure would move underneath the earth to escape detection of course)
To summarize, FAIR insists that: (1) the 116 pages were lost, (2) the angel took all of the seer stones from Joseph as well as the gold plates, (3) but for some unexplained reason the angel returned Joseph's brown rock (or as some accounts say, a different seer stone), but (4) did not return the spectacle version of the urim & thummim that Smith claimed (there is no proof) originally came with the gold plates (no proof of the existence of plates either) in the stone box (no proof of a stone box either). The angel also did not return the gold plates (Did we mention that there is no proof that gold plates existed, and that Smith's family and others who participated as scribes and watched him translate stated that he never consulted any plates while translating?)
We find it very unlikely that the urim & thummim (and the plates for that matter) were carefully preserved for thousands of years just so they could be used on the first 116 pages of the BOM but not used or needed to produce the rest of the Book of Mormon. A more likely scenario is that Joseph made props of the spectacle version of the urim & thummim (as well as the plates) that he always kept covered in a cloth or box but he realized that they wouldn't pass a detailed inspection and would be discovered sooner or later, so he replaced them with a rock that 'can't be' disproved as an ancient relic. It worked when gullible people who believed in magic rocks and magic sticks were presented with Smith's magic stone.
We will give Keller and FAIR credit for amassing a large database of information on seer stones such as this site:Link is here. We also credit Keller for sharing sources that don't particularly show Joseph in a good light such as this reference provided by Keller: Link is here.
FAIR may offer to explain the other seer stones that Joseph used, but were not found with the plates, as ancient relics and not merely common stones but this brings up further problems as discussed above. FAIR also sometimes will cite one obscure reference to make their case, but true historians usually try not to use only one source, especially when it contradicts the main body of the evidence. FAIR's theories also disagree with what the official church curriculum has taught for over a 150 years. FAIR is also at odds with FARMS over some of these issues such as whether or not the plates were returned to Joseph. FAIR is even at odds with fellow FAIR apologists on this issue as some of them disagree with what Keller said on the plates being returned. So although FAIR likes to promote itself as having very plausible answers to skeptic's problems, the many subsequent problems that arise when FAIR's theories are critically analyzed need to be considered as well.
This is what happens when leaders of the Mormon Church steadfastly refuse to clear up critical problems in the church's official history. It reflects badly on Mormon leaders. As one investigator said recently after searching lds.org and some conference talks looking for answers. “Do the LDS leaders really think that investigators are persuaded to believe in their claims when they keep repeating over and over: “Enemies of the church are trying to destroy your beliefs, we know it is true!”