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The Contender
Con (against)
4 Points

More likely than not, Joseph Smith was either a con-artist or insane, not a prophet of god.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/6/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 974 times Debate No: 51766
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (8)
Votes (1)




Many argue that Joseph Smith was a con-artist, or insane, resulting in the disdainful derision of the members of the Mormon church. My aim here is not to insult the religion, but to prove that they are ignoring the evidence for this claim to preserve their world-view. It would be beautiful if a Mormon stumbled upon this, and accepted, but I welcome those playing the devil's advocate as well.
Burden of proof is shared. Either position need only demonstrate a higher likelihood for their argument to win. I will point out grammar errors, so I invite you to do the same. Thorough citation is an absolute must. Citation must also come from reputable sources.

I'll be taking the pro position- that, more likely than not, Joseph Smith was either a con-artist or insane, not a prophet of god.

The con position will be- More likely than not, Joseph Smith was a true prophet of god, not a con-artist or insane.

First round is for acceptance.
Second round is for opening arguments.
Third round is for rebuttals and closing arguments.

Failure to adhere to this structure, by either side, will result in a forfeit.

I've made this debate (almost) impossible to accept. If you are interested in taking the debate, comment or message me. If you think changes to the resolution need to be made, explain why in the comments.


It must beautiful because a Mormon has stumbled upon this...

I accept and propose the position that ore likely than not, Joseph Smith was a true prophet of god, not a con-artist nor insane.

(btw, capitalizing "More" after hyphen seems peculiar; and I believe it is "Either position needs..."; also in this context God would need to be capitalized otherwise you would write "a god", "the god", or "gods".)

Debate Round No. 1


A Bad Start

Firstly, let me reiterate what I said in the resolution:
First round is for acceptance.
Second round is for opening arguments.
Third round is for rebuttals and closing arguments.

Failure to adhere to this structure, by either side, will result in a forfeit.”

In your first round, you attacked my grammar. Grammar is a metric by which we are scored in the debate; therefore, by doing this, you used the first round to present an argument against me. If you wanted to attack my grammar, you should have waited until the second round, wherein arguments are permitted.

This, in accordance with the resolution, results in your forfeit.

But how boring would that be? I want a good debate. I’ll choose not to preclude that possibility by being overly pedantic. I’ll agree to ignore that portion of the resolution (for the first round) if you do as well.

However, since you attacked me in the opening round, I feel it is fair for me to use the second round, previously allotted for arguments only, to present a rebuttal to your attack. Please try to adhere to the rules from this point onward.


Your point about me capitalizing the word “god” was entirely reasonable. So you’re aware of my reasoning behind it, I meant the word in a general sense, not specifically referring to Yahweh. From this point onward, I will refer to him as such. I just don’t want you to make the mistake of thinking I did it as in insult; I didn’t.

Using the wording “…need only…” is entirely appropriate when “need” is being used as an auxiliary verb. (1) In this case, it was.

Capitalizing the word “more” was peculiar, but given it was the beginning of a sentence, not incorrect; I’d call it literary style. The previous sentence, which outlined the pro position, was not the beginning of a new sentence, so I didn’t capitalize the first word.

-Moving on-

My position is to prove that Joseph Smith was, more likely than not, a con-man, either out to deceive people, or insane. That being said, I have only to provide better and more numerous reputable citations to support that accusation than you provide against it. So, without wasting any time or space, let’s begin.

Consider the following sources, the first made by a prominent anti-Mormon, the latter made by an early leader in the LDS church:

“…while Joe had been a-courting and developing into an A No. 1 backwoods confidence man, the neighborhood of Palmyra had been supplied with a new sensation to succeed the origin of the Indians, buried treasure, and eternal damnation, as topics for the crossroads' forums....”

- (H. M. Beardsley, 1931 Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire p. 43)

“I had no more confidence in Joseph Smith being a prophet, or in his knowing anything about religion, than I have now in a juggler or a wandering mountebank. I knew nothing at all about Joseph, except what I had heard from his enemies or read in the papers.”

- (Daniel H. Wells, June 30th, 1867)

In both cases (the first being a man obviously in opposition to Smith’s movement, the second having the opposite feelings), they couldn’t avoid addressing Smith as a possible confidence man. Confidence man and juggler were terms used in the 1800’s to mean someone unworthy of your confidence (2), or essentially, what we today call a con-man. If both his enemies and his followers wondered whether his motives were pure, then we must ask ourselves why. Why would his enemies and friends alike think it was at all likely that Joseph Smith was lying to everyone about his newfound religion? It seems it was a serious possibility to both his believers, and his non-believers. If it was simple doubt, there would be no question on the matter. He was selling angels, golden plates, and conversations with the divine; any sane person would have doubts. Doubts aren’t what causes pause for me here. If they had said, “I doubted his stories”, or, “I wondered if he was sane”, I’d read it without a second glance and think nothing of it. If a 14 year old tells you he talked to an angel, and you don’t believe him, you don’t say you thought he might be a con-man. You simply say exactly that; you don’t believe him. If you did say he was a con-man, however, and that was why you didn’t believe him… Well, it’s logical that there would have to be a history to cause that idea to exist, especially when it existed so prevalently. That is what I’ll work first to establish.

Most early works arguing that Smith was a fraud, such as “Mormonism Unveiled”, were based upon the writings of D. Philastus Hurlbut. Because the witnesses who signed Hurlbut’s writings were likely illiterate farmers, most Mormons dismiss his writings, and all writings based upon his, with apathetic hand-waving and prepossessed dismissals. It is, nonetheless, important to note that he had dozens of farmers and townspeople who grew up with Joseph Smith, documented as also calling him a juggler, or confidence man (3).

That being said, there are several statements from other sources that predate Hurlbut’s 1833 writings:

“It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, went no further than the pretended faculty of seeing wonders in a “peep stone,” and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have the custody of hidden treasures.”

- Palmyra Reflector, Feb. 18, 1831

“... Joseph Smith. This man has been known, in these parts, for some time, as a kind of Juggler, who has pretended, through a glass, to see money under ground &c, &c.”

- Rev. John Sherer, Nov. 18, 1830; (Early Mormon Documents 4 pp. 92-93)

Both examples are separate from Hurlbut, but reference Joseph Smith’s past fraudulent behavior. Further examples can be provided as needed, but these are all that’s necessary for my first contention: that I find it more likely that these people were being honest, and Joseph Smith did indeed have a long history of fraudulent behavior, than the idea that they all, seemingly to no end, lied about it for no personal gain whatsoever.

Having shown my reason to believe his history as a con-man was likely real, I find it follows coherently that Hurlbut was basing his accusations on something real as well. If he did use the seer stones to swindle people, which I’ve demonstrated is a likely conclusion, then why should we believe he was being any more honest when he looked into his hat and used seer stones to translate a book an angel gave him that he conveniently couldn’t show anyone (especially experts on ancient text)?

“I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.”

- (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ p. 12)

I look forward to your reply, and thank you for accepting the debate.

Works Cited

(1) (

(2) James G. Bennett of the New York Herald, On July 8, 1849, reported:

For the last few months a man has been traveling about the city, known as the "Confidence Man," that is, he would go up to a perfect stranger in the street, and being a man of genteel appearance, would easily command an interview. Upon this interview he would say after some little conversation, "have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until to-morrow;" the stranger at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance not at that moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing "confidence" in the honesty of the stranger, who walks off laughing and the other supposing it to be a joke allows him so to do.

(3) (




"This, in accordance with the resolution, results in your forfeit."

Not as a rebuttal but I was acting in good faith in accordance with the resolution:

The debate rules for the 1st round seemingly were exclusive only of posting an argument/rebuttal. Your implication notwithstanding, I would also note that pointing out grammatical errors is not intended as an "attack" or as “argument” in the context of any debate and is widely considered to be a fallacy (, however, I will however defer to the voters for this metric.

"That being said, I have only to provide better and more numerous reputable citations to support that accusation than you provide against it."

Brevity is the soul of wit and the sister of talent. The assumption that providing more numerous falsehoods, misconceptions, and poorly concluded speculations would merit a victory is interesting but also amusing as a strategy of quantity over quality.


Joseph Smith was neither a con-artist nor insane, and was a prophet of god.

Some people may prefer anecdotes and hearsay, but, I will prefer that my argument be founded upon reliable information, common sense, and reason.

1. A con-artist relies on several stages when executing a con. This according to Edward H. Smith, in his book, Confessions of a Confidence Man - " [the] con game has its introduction, development, climax, dénouement and close, just like any good play." Smith goes on to elaborate that subsequent to a con-man's preparation there is the "Approach" which is the manner of getting in touch with the victim. Conversely Joseph Smith did not approach any alleged victims, but rather people came to him for help.

2. The idea that a teenage boy without a high school education could "make up" the Book of Mormon in only two months, express such astute biblical knowledge, and construct a significant religious movement with many conspirators simply as a "con" is absurd and improbable - likely impossible. This sort of accomplishment would not be the work of a "con-man" but of a genius and prodigy that has never been documented before or since. The more reasonable conclusion is that these events were divinely inspired, divinely orchestrated, and the preponderance of evidence confirms the presence of prophecy.

3. David Whitmer was one of the three witnesses for the Book of Mormon. He writes the following opening chapter IV (

"In June 1829, the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished. God gave it to us as his Holy Word, and left us as men to work out our own salvation and set in order the Church of Christ according to the written word. He left us as men to receive of His Spirit as we walked worthy to receive it; and His Spirit guides men into all truth; but the spirit of man guides man into error. When God had given us the Book of Mormon, and a few revelations in 1829 by the same means that the Book was translated, commanding us to rely upon the written word in establishing the church, He did His part; and it left us to do our part and to be guided by the Holy Ghost as we walked worthy to receive. God works with men according to their faith and obedience. He has unchangeable spiritual laws which He cannot break; and He could not be so merciful as to give more of His Spirit to any man, than that man was worthy to receive by his faith and obedience."

"If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them."

Whtimer never claims fraud, nor shouts "con", cries “insanity”, or recants his witness. Whitmer maintained the truthfulness of the BoM’s emergence unto death (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (NY: Knopf, 2005)).

It is absurd that an "insane" person would also accomplish a similar situation for any length of time without any notice or mention. An "outsider", one Truman Coe, a Presbyterian Minister, in 1836, writes:

“I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his [face in his] hat, so as to exclude the light, and then [read] to his scribe the words as they appeared before him."

A minister from another religion would immediately expose Joseph Smith as insane or as con-man if it were merited...but he does not, he writes of the account as if it were a normal. Sally Chase, William Stafford, Joshua Stafford, Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County were known to use seer stones in a reputable fashion in the same area as Joseph Smith. (Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism - Bushman) (“Lorenzo Saunders Interview, 12 November 1884")

4. These "seer stones", referred to as the Urim and Thummin, are found in the Bible.

Exodus 28:30, 1 Samuel 28:6, and Ezra 2:63 all confirm the notion of various forms of divination that God allows. “Seer stones" were not uncommon forms of revelation/divination in Christianity. (

While our modern day tastes and perceptions may consider supernatural methods as being strange or nefarious it was not that way in the context of Joseph Smith's life. This time was during America's "Second Great Awakening" - known for religious fervor, not con-arts and insanity. Here we see the emergence of conformist and non-conformist religion. ( (

5. The complexity by which the Book of Mormon was received and translated, and how the church was founded - all accounted for by multiple witnesses with a likeness beyond reasonable coincidence illustrates that an uneducated teenager would find such an elaboration well beyond his grasp and ability, especially as it required an extremely well-coordinated conspiracy. Furthermore, were this the devised plan of an insane person, multiple witnesses of that circumstance would have revealed this fact. To claim insanity in this circumstance is the stuff only batman villains are made of...and that stuff is found only in fantasy comics.

6. Here is a brief description of how "Prophet" is defined by Mormons and as such how it used when declaring that Joseph Smith was a Prophet:

The word "prophet" comes from the Greek prophetes, which means "inspired teacher." Although neither the Greek term nor its Hebrew equivalent, nabi, initially required the function of foretelling, all prophecy looks to the future. Since the Lord has chosen some of his servants to be foretellers--to disclose, sometimes in specific terms, momentous events that are to occur--the predictive element often overshadows other implications of the word in the minds of some.

But the gift of prophecy is not restricted to those whose words have been recorded in scripture. By scriptural definition, a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ and is moved by the Holy Ghost (Rev. 19:10; cf. TPJS, pp. 119, 160). Moses, voicing his approval of two men who had prophesied, exclaimed, "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:26-29). Schools of prophets and "sons" (followers) of prophets, some false and some true, existed in large numbers in Old Testament times. In modern times, speaking of Brigham Young, Elder Wilford Woodruff said, "He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy" (Journal of Discourses 13:165). It follows that this spirit does not operate in every utterance of its possessor. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that "a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such" (History of the Church 5:265).

One can simply read the text of Doctrine and Covenants ( and discern quite easily that these writings are inspired of God and the Spirit of God will make an impression that the writings contain prophetic truths which are successfully applied in the lives of people. This will lead to the inevitable conclusion that Joseph Smith was, in fact, a prophet - neither insane nor nefarious. For as stated above a prophet is merely an inspired teacher and one who is moved by the Holy Spirit and has a belief in Jesus Christ - and to this end Joseph Smith qualifies.

"Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city..." -Matthew 23:34

Debate Round No. 2


BananaPhilosopher forfeited this round.


Joseph Smith was, in fact, a prophet - neither insane nor nefarious. For as stated in the above a prophet is merely an inspired teacher and one who is moved by the Holy Spirit and has a belief in Jesus Christ - and to this end Joseph Smith qualifies as aprophet.
Debate Round No. 3
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by BananaPhilosopher 2 years ago
I was mormon for 19 years. I completed seminary and read the book of mormon more than once. I live in Utah, surrounded my millions of mormons. Not many people know the religion better, or have observed those in it to a greater extent than I have.
Posted by MegaMeg132 2 years ago
Before anyone should ever open a debate about a different religion, that person should observe that church. For example, if you are to argue that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet, read the Book Of Mormon and Joseph Smith History before you deny him.
Posted by BananaPhilosopher 2 years ago
Note before you accept that the resolution has been altered. Thank you for the suggestion Jif. I can see how that could have been a problem.
Posted by BananaPhilosopher 2 years ago
I will alter the criteria so you can accept as soon as you're ready. PM me when you are so someone else doesn't accept before you.
I'm glad you're so confident. Let's see if it's justified.
Posted by subgenius 2 years ago
too bad i don't meet your criteria, otherwise i would gladly clean your clock on this topic. (i am obligated to offer though, perhaps another time when you are not too timid in accepting challengers).
Posted by Jifpop09 2 years ago
I would take out the con artist part, and just debate whether his teachings were real or fake. It will give a lot more wiggle room, and proving he's a con artist and not crazy is a terrible burden
Posted by BananaPhilosopher 2 years ago
Mormons purport to be Christian, while others claim they aren't, so that would be a separate debate entirely. The only presupposition the resolution makes on the subject of god is that the con position must prove that the god worshiped by Mormons was Joseph Smith's motivation (or that Smith believed he was). Pro's position will be to prove that Joseph Smith was a conman; that he didn't believe he was a prophet, and was trying to deceive people.
Of course, the resolution is malleable until someone accepts the debate. If you have suggestions, feel free to make them.
Does that answer your question?
Posted by Generic-Name 2 years ago
Is this debate based on the premise that the Christian God is not real?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Actionsspeak 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro opened strong, but his arguements were all refuted meanwhile Con's weren't and because of this Con's arguments were left stronger and more convincing to me. In addition pro forfeited so conduct to Con.