sketch of Joseph Smith showing the golden plates to a group of men

Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones: Coming to Grips with Troubling Information in Church History

Paradigm shifts can rock our world, but they can also bring greater understanding.

"To maintain our belief in miracles is the foundation of the Restoration." -Michael Hubbard MacKay

Photo by Austin Neill

Before 1697, Westerners believed the idiom “all swans are white.” But when a Dutch explorer discovered a black swan in Australia, his discovery “instantly demolished an apparent reality while also enabling a new, more informed state of mind.”

Similarly, when one encounters previously unknown information about Church history, a faith crisis can arise. When cherished and long-held beliefs come into conflict with the new information, an important part of an individual’s worldview can suddenly feel shattered. In his article “Mormon Paradigm Shifts: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones,” Michael Hubbard MacKay refers to this experience as a paradigm shift.

MacKay describes a recent black swan in Mormonism: the publication in the Ensign of a photo of Joseph Smith’s seer stone. The revelation shocked some Church members. MacKay says they may have wondered why they hadn’t heard about the seer stone before and why the Church hadn’t mentioned it had one. Even though this information may have troubled some, MacKay helps us understand that changing the way we think about seer stones does not have to alter our belief in the truthfulness of the Restoration of the gospel.

New information can be jarring, but the process of a paradigm shift helps us to normalize information that was once shocking and to achieve a “more informed state of mind.” And as we continue to seek after this informed state of mind, “the paradigm shifts we experience will begin to exclude crises, and careful evaluation will allow for a smooth transition from not knowing to knowing.”

Source: BYU Religious Education Review, BYU Religious Studies Center

—Tyler Balli, Mormon Insights contributor 

feature image by olinda reynolds

Find more insights

Read Tacy LeBaron’s Mormon Insights article “Understanding the Book of Mormon’s Translation.”

Read “Joseph the Seer” by Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, in which they discuss how “the historical record clarifies how Joseph Smith fulfilled his role as a seer and translated the Book of Mormon.”

To learn more about the actual translation process, read “Book of Mormon Translation,” an article published by the Church on lds.org/topics in 2014.

Read Keith A. Erekson’s article “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith” to learn more about how to accept and understand Church history.

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