I believe the Book of Mormon to be true. I would even go further to say that by the power of the Holy Ghost, I have received the unmistakable testimony from God that it is true. I consider that a great blessing and a precious gift to have received such knowledge. When I was not committed to the Church, I did search for truth as an 18-19 year old, and I was exposed to the harshest criticisms of the Church and the Book of Mormon then available, including the Tanner's "Changing World of Mormonism" and Walter Martin's various works available back in 1979. I wasn't born a Mormon, and my family was completely inactive after having joined the LDS Church in 1976. So no one was forcing me or tricking me or coaching me. There was no guilt trip or sense of debt to anyone in the LDS Church. I had been a very good debater, I was a well educated student, and I seemed to do well on tests of ability to reason and think. So I came at the Book of Mormon with a simple desire to know if it was true, and a willingness to walk away if I found it not to be believable. I was raised Lutheran and attended many different Christian churches, so I wasn't "against" any faith or position. My best friend eventually went on to become a pastor of a Four Square Church in Idaho.
So I had an open mind. I still do, but that is getting ahead of things.
The first thing of huge import is the Book of Mormon has witnesses besides just Joseph Smith. And the closest of those witnesses all left the Church and in Joseph Smith's lifetime did not return. The two closest to Joseph Smith of the three, Oliver and Martin, later returned to the LDS Church. Oliver was actually present for angels visiting to confer the priesthood on two separate occasions.
I read how there was some talk that the witnesses, Oliver in particular, may have denied his witness. This was proposed by the Tanner's because a poem included a statement indicating Oliver may have done so, and the author said it did not matter. The Tanner's were being deceptive even publishing that, which I discovered, as the poem was reacting to a false report made about Oliver. This caused me then to become very careful in uncritically accepting as "facts" statements of critics. Sure a member of the Church published the poem and thought Oliver had denied his testimony. But it was false. Presenting responses to false statements without providing the context is to lie by omission.
I have learned the critics of the LDS faith do not feel any need to be balanced in presenting history of LDS doctrine. So I now always review their supporting information before I will accept something as factual. This is not based on just one incident. It is literally based on hundreds, maybe thousands of such interactions with both printed material and individuals.
So we have witnesses. What did they witness? Of the 11 people who are listed as witnesses in the front of the BOM, 10 actually held the plates and handled the individual pages (only David Whitmer did not). They saw the engravings, the color, the binding and lifted them to feel their weight. They did so in broad daylight. They did so in groups, usually. There is some controversy about whether two groups of four or all eight at once saw the plates. No real matter. Oliver and Martin were alone with Joseph when they handled the plates in the open.
Now the plates were actually quite heavy. Joseph let many people handle the plates and lift them while they were covered up. Maybe 16 or more people that I can count. The reports are the plates weighed between 30-60 pounds. That is not really much of a range if you lift a solid block of metal and then guess at the weight.
William Smith would later say the plates were a combination of copper and gold. All of the witnesses said they had the "appearance of gold". Moroni is quoted as saying they were "gold plates". All of these statements are consistent with a material used by Meso-American tribes called Tumbaga, which is a alloy of copper and gold, and depending upon that mixture, would have weighed about what the witnesses said the plates weighed. This is remarkable because Joseph Smith and the witnesses would have had no knowledge of Tumbaga, or its link to Central America.
Next, the text of the Book of Mormon is miraculous in its consistency. The work done by Royal Skousen on restoring the original text of the Book of Mormon is amazing on many levels. But what we find is a document which is not just the helter-skelter dictations of someone trying to crank out a book. It is consistent and complicated.
The text has had several in-depth studies done on "word printing". It is obvious from these studies (Hilton in 1997, Todd K. Moon, 2006, "Document Author
Classification using Generalized Discriminant Analysis")the Book of Mormon was not composed by Joseph Smith, only translated by him. This makes the case for the Book of Mormon being from Joseph Smith's mind extremely unlikely. Hilton's study also disqualified Solomon Spaulding and Oliver Cowdery. If not these folks, then who wrote it? The studies simply state there are unique author traits in the texts, so the authors are unknown. The most logical answer is they are those individuals whose names are on the books within the Book of Mormon, barring evidence of other composers.
But if there was other authors, where are there notes, books or for that matter their statements? Unlike the pictures we usually see in Sunday School of Joseph Smith behind a curtain with his finger on the plates translating, we know he actually was almost always in the open, initially wearing a breastplate and the Urim and Thummim attached to the breastplate in a sort of weird pair of glasses, then later putting his head in a hat with a seer stone. Those who commented, specifically Emma who was there, said he had no papers or books, and she would have seen them. I once challenged Dan Vogel, as an ex-LDS critic and perhaps the most scholarly critic of LDS history, to memorize 3 days work of the Isaiah passages, and then quote them back. That would be about 27 pages. Of course, you don't get to have a Bible around, since we know they did not have one present during the translation according to the witnesses present. And we will then make allowances for changes to the text at the same rate as Joseph Smith's dictation amends the Isaiah sections. Vogel declined, saying Joseph must have had a Bible. Really? You have witnesses present who say he did not, and your position is they are lying? Wouldn't Martin Harris and Oliver, both ex-communicated and humiliated at their leaving of the Church, mentioned this, even if false, to attack Joseph? I say even if false because they could have made the claim and why would they have cared, they were no longer in the Church? Because they knew there were lots of witnesses who saw how it was done. Vogel and the critics have no case that Joseph Smith actually wrote or copied the Book of Mormon from someone else' work. This evidence is very much on a par with the physical reality that there were gold plates. Because we can test the text and we have witnesses. And the witnesses obviously told other people, or else folks would not have constantly be trying to steal the non-existent plates he was translating.
The next item is the content of the text itself. As my friend Steve Smoot has pointed out on several occasions, Joseph Smith did not realize how "Hebrew" it was. He actually tried to edit out the "Hebrewisms" from later editions. However, we now know these unusual and non-English-style sentence structures are good Hebrew. And in his lifetime, Joseph Smith never claimed such a style to be present in the Book of Mormon. He doesn't say "See, there is Chiasmus and Hebrew sentence forms all over in it, proving it is Middle Eastern in its origin or influence." No. He goes the other way. Edit them out after the fact. Never comments on them. Hmm, its like he doesn't recognize they are there. Like he was just a translator or something...
Much has been made of the some "4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon". I always thought that was important. Until we looked closer. Editorially, if you count every comma, spelling and sentence structure change, Royal Skousen says there are closer to 100,000 such changes in a text of 400,000+ words. Is this a big deal? No. First, out of all of the changes, 99.5% were strictly to make the text more readable and are scatter across a dozen editions. Secondly, there are at most 50 some changes which could be considered significant in terms of doctrine for those not believing in prophetic direction. The addition of "son of..." to "God" in term describing Jesus, or the "pure" for "white" change describing the change to come to the Lamanites. How does this compare to the Bible? Well, there are at least 250,000, perhaps as many as 400,000 variations to the New Testament text in terms of spelling changes, word additions or deletions and word order changes. Since they did not include punctuation (that is added to translations, it is not in the Greek). Some of the changes are rather important. The last half of the last chapter of Mark, for example, is not considered by most textual scholars to be original to the text. 1John 5:7-8, the only text to fairly explicitly teach the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, is nearly universally rejected by scholars as a late (300 AD)addition to the text. Jesus being ministered to by an angel in the Garden of Gethsamane is not found in the earliest manuscripts, but is quoted by Justin Martyr, and found in later editions. The commentary on changes sold by United Bible Societies, which publishes the most widely accepted version of the Greek NT, lists over 3,800 changes they feel merit comment, out of which about 50 or 60 are such they admit they don't know what should be included in the text. The Book of Mormon suffers no such issue as to holes in the text.
The Old Testament does not fare much better. The main reason there are few variations in the Hebrew text of the Bible is because, (drum roll please), in the 10th Century AD the Rabbi's of the world met to decide what was the original text, and they destroyed all copies from earlier times. Fortunately we got the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and they became widely available in the past 10-15 years. We now know there are thousands of variations in the text. Actually, tens of thousands. Some entire verses were left out. Some verses changed to hide the original belief that there were many real gods (Compare Duet 32:8-9 in the King James Bible and in the NRSV). The King James Bible followed the tradition, edited text from the 10th Century AD. We know now the Greek and Samarian versions contain variants which legitimately belonged to the original OT.
So do all these variations matter? I don't really think so if you recognize that people are involved in passing the text along, and God can restore it as he decides to make it available. You can still find God in the Bible. He just never tells us to pray to know the Bible is true. As we can now tell, for obvious reasons. He still, however, instructs us to study it.
Another example of things worth considering in the Book of Mormon are all the things which Joseph Smith "got wrong", which turned out he got correct. Examples such as Alma being a man's name. The existence of Nahom, and it being on the trade route in Arabia. Jerusalem being the location of Jesus' birth. Barley being in the New World. Cement in Central America. The kinds of "swords" used by Native Americans. A great list of these are found in a talk by Matt Roper, now on FAIR's website.
Brant Gardner's work on the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon's Meso American setting is equally compelling. There is a lot of information, and links to videos, etc, at this web page.
I think those are probably the big ones. That is, except for the witness of the Spirit. I would lie if I said there have not been issues which troubled me to some degree as I made my way through the various criticisms of the LDS Church. So it was that my Spiritual experiences, after I had studied out the issues of the Book of Mormon to the degree I was able, helped me wait to see the big picture. If the Tanners or Walter Martin repeatedly distort history because they think the bigger cause is to get people out of the Church, rather than being accountable ministers to God, then I don't have to panic when I read their latest attack. I also need to have the intellectual maturity to realize that what passes as normal or abnormal today is completely irrelevant to early LDS history or Bible or Book of Mormon history. Faith is complicated in that way, even as it is simple. I need to realize God wants me to follow him in order to obtain a witness of his work (John 8:31-32). It is only by the Holy Spirit, not by reading and studying, one can come to know Jesus is real (1Cor 12:3). For those troubled by history or science or even doctrine, I can't prove anything. But I think the case FOR the Book of Mormon and the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is good enough to be worthy of exercising faith, and then not forgetting to be true to that witness.
Dan Peterson said in a talk, after evaluating the fact that Joseph Smith apparently never needed to actually see the plates to translate them, that the purpose of the plates is the proverbial thumb in the eye of critics. You cannot reasonably prove the LDS faith is false unless you can provide a plausible case against the existence and content of the plates. The plates are a historical reality. That is what the evidence says. Therefore the Church was restored. Joseph Smith was a prophet, right down to Thomas Monson today. The plates are enough to cause us to exercise a particle of faith, and come and follow. That particle, when nurtured, will grow into a full blown, saving witness. (Alma 32:26-43; Luke 8:4-18)
It is my desire this brief exposition can provide a context for those seeking evidence for why they should believe in Jesus Christ and the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.