Truth tends to work in this direction. We observe evidence, and are led to the appropriate conclusion of that evidence. To get to the next step, the next piece of evidence must be found.
In the LDS world, however, I have noticed a pattern of misapplying certain evidences to reach unwarranted conclusions. For example, these follow a logical flow:
- If the Book of Mormon gives one a lot of strength in life, then it is reasonable to conclude it is a book that can lift one up.
- If the Book of Mormon teaches one to have more faith, then it is a wonderful book on faith.
- If it helps a mother to love her children, then it is an excellent guide on parenting.
To read the Book of Mormon and like the themes, and even to feel good about the content, does not mean that it was divinely inspired. On the same note, jumping to conclusions about Joseph Smith based on unrelated evidence can be misguided.
- If Joseph Smith inspired millions, then he was a charismatic leader.
- If he converted thousands with his words, then he was a powerful orator.
- If he stood up against threats against his life and suffered through prison, then he was a very brave (or at least motivated) man.
- But it is problematic to use any of the above evidences to go beyond their corresponding conclusions and decide that they point to Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. Every chance that might have supported the latter claim has proven damaging to it; his purported translations, his private life, inaccurate prophecies, his unChristlike actions, etc.
We would not jump to erroneous conclusions in other areas. One does not propose to a woman simply because she says she likes kids. One does not purchase a house simply because it has a large garage. One does not purchase a car simply because it has a balloon tied to the mirror. One does not invest in stock simply because it has a catchy name. In each of these cases, one should do more investigation until the evidence leads to the appropriate action. Just as one would not fall to his or her knees and worship a television magician after a card trick, one should not conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is an historical record after feeling good about them. There are vital pieces missing in between.