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For the defense

Annual FAIR Conference affirms the Restoration

SANDY, Utah — Continuing in its endeavor to counter negative criticisms from adversaries of the Church, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research presented its annual conference Aug. 3-4 at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, with speakers focusing on topics such as Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and ancient scripture in the Pearl of Great Price.

Known by the acronym "FAIR," the foundation is not affiliated with the Church, though it does proclaim that it is "dedicated to standing as a witness of Christ and His restored Church."

"Our mission is to address the charges leveled at the doctrines, practices and leaders of (the Church) with documented responses that are written in an easily understandable style," the mission statement reads. Full texts of some of the presentations given at this and past conferences are or will be available at the foundation's Web site, www.fairlds.org.

Here are brief highlights from a few of the presentations given at this year's conference.

Daniel C. Peterson

A professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU by profession, Brother Peterson devotes considerable avocational energy to defense of the Church, including the editing of the FARMS Review of Books, a journal published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

In his FAIR address, he contradicted critics' assertions that the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated never existed and that the Three Witnesses' and the Eight Witnesses' experiences with the plates were hallucinations.

"The historical evidence suggests — no, it shouts — the contrary," Brother Peterson declared.

"It is worth examining," he said, "the contrasting character of the experiences reported by the Three Witnesses and the Eight, since, I believe, their very difference reinforces them."

While the Three Witnesses' encounter was attended by divine glory and manifestation, that of the Eight Witnesses was not, he pointed out.

"Why the differences? In order, I think, for the task of skeptics to be rendered more difficult. One might be tempted to dismiss the testimony of the Three, with its spectacular divine accompaniments, as hallucinatory (however untenable that dismissal would be) or mere superstition. By contrast, there is absolutely nothing in the testimony of the Eight that points to superstition or hallucination. It is the most matter-of-fact kind of experience — nine men in the woods in the early afternoon — except for the object in the center of it. On the other hand, if one were to approach the Witnesses first by way of the Eight and one were inclined to skepticism, one might be tempted to write their experience off as deception by Joseph Smith or by some other conspirator or group of conspirators. There must really have been plates — fabricated to deceive. But this doesn't account for the testimony of the Three, which goes beyond fabrication and involves a number of additional objects. In other words, a single explanation seems unable to account for the two very different kinds of experiences."

Matthew Brown

The author of seven books on Mormonism, Brother Brown focused his presentation on critics' attacks on the foundational experiences of Joseph Smith, such as the First Vision and the visitation by Moroni.

"Critics of Joseph Smith have long claimed that the stories of the Restoration offered by him were revised over a period of time until they became what is known today as the accepted history the Church," Brother Brown noted. He said he would be presenting "considerable new research" to counter that notion, though not nearly all that he has available.

"If a person wants to determine if a story has changed over time, it is logical to first examine that story in its earliest known form," he said, adding that in the case of the Book of Mormon account, there are records from eyewitnesses who heard Joseph Smith relate the story for the first time: his mother, Lucy Mack Smith; his sister, Kathryn; and his brother, William.

"None of these three eyewitnesses ever mentions that they heard a different story of origin related by Joseph Smith, and none of them ever mentions hearing even in the community any earlier version of the story," Brother Brown said.

Joseph warned the family not to tell others in the community about the plates, he said. "It is interesting to note that one of the Smiths' neighbors named Lorenzo Saunders stated that before Alvin Smith died in November of 1823, Joseph Smith Jr. told the Saunders family that he had seen an angel and was notified about the plates. Joseph evidently broke his own rule of nondisclosure in this instance but in the process provided an independent set of witnesses to the elements in his story in 1823."

Brian Hauglid

The Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price carries within itself "the divine stamp of its own authenticity," declared Brian Hauglid in his presentation at the FAIR Conference.

The book has been attacked over the years by some who think to discredit the Church by disproving the authenticity of the book, a purported divine translation through Joseph Smith of ancient Egyptian papyri. One avenue of attack in recent times has been the so-called Kirtland Egyptian Papers, a set of documents dating from 1835 in the handwriting of some of Joseph Smith's scribes, that contain passages from the Book of Abraham accompanied by Egyptian characters. On the assumption that the documents constitute "translation working papers" for the Book of Abraham, critics have claimed they discredit the book because they don't show an accurate translation.

Brother Hauglid, professor of ancient scripture at BYU, challenged the assumption that the documents, which he called the Book of Abraham manuscripts, are indeed translation working papers.

"It's not unreasonable to suggest that the papers were study papers — not translation papers, but study papers," he said. This would be consistent with the endeavor by the Prophet and his associates to "study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people" (Doctrine and Covenants 90:15).

Using projected digital images, he showed that the manuscripts display characteristics of having been transcribed from other copies as opposed to being written down from dictation as though part of the translation process.

These characteristics include common scribal errors such as dittography, in which a scribe inadvertently writes something down twice as his eyes move from the document he is copying to the copy he is making, and homoeoteleuton, in which portions of the original text are omitted in the copy because the scribe misses seeing them.

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