The comments below are loosely related to my 21 March 2021 blog entry, “Mark Hofmann, the “Salamander Letter,” and Me”:
I’ve just learned from a small sub-handful of my semi-professional critics that I’m still seething with anger today at the fact that, while the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought the fraudulent “Salamander Letter” hook, line, and sinker, the late critic of the Church Jerald Tanner publicly declared it false from the start. It seems that I’m furious at Mr. Tanner over that, even though he died nearly fifteen years ago, and that, via blinks and nods and fairly cryptic insinuation, I’ve gone so far as to suggest that Mr. Tanner may have been involved (as something of a co-conspirator?) in aiding and abetting or at least covering up Mark Hofmann’s crimes.
It just so happens, though, that my actual view of Jerald Tanner and of the most famous of Hofmann’s forgeries has been in the public record since at least 16 May 1998, and — quelle surprise! — that it’s nothing even remotely like what the usual suspects have claimed for me:
Incidentally, regarding that claim that Jerald Tanner got things unambiguously and decisively right on the “Salamander Letter” while the prophets and apostles proved themselves gullible fools . . . Well, it’s not quite that simple. My friend and colleague John Gee has pulled together some important materials on his blog regarding that question:
Finally, I share a helpful insight from Wally Paxton — I hope that he won’t mind my borrowing his comment from my Facebook page for this blog entry — on that matter of the 1985 attempt by people at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (the late and lamented FARMS) to find a way to integrate the “Salamander Letter” into their thinking about the Restoration. They had not themselves examined the physical letter, but they made the attempt on the assumption that the letter was genuine (as, indeed, many putative experts, both members and non-members of the Church, had assured them that it was):
I don’t think what FARMS did to understand the fake salamander letter (which the church believed to be authentic at the time) is too much different from what scientists do when they notice data that conflicts with the official narrative. 10 years ago, scientists at CERN saw particles violating the laws of physics and going faster than the speed of light. And big names in physics were trying to grapple with the data. Some rationalized ways that it might actually be possible. A few years later, scientists figured out that it was just a measurement error (like we came to realize the salamander letter was fake), and it was much ado about nothing. As a scientist, I like this thought from Samir Okasha on coming to scientific understanding that I think also applies beyond science: “In general, scientists do not just abandon their theories whenever they conflict with the observational data. Usually they look for ways of eliminating the conflict without having to give up their theory. And it is worth remembering that virtually every theory in science conflicts with some observations — finding a theory that fits all the data perfectly is extremely difficult. Obviously if a theory persistently conflicts with more and more data, and no plausible ways of explaining away the conflict are found, it will eventually have to be rejected. But little progress would be made if scientists simply abandoned their theories at the first sign of trouble.” (Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction)
I can’t help but think, in this context, of the late physicist and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn and of his justly famous 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which makes a similar point.