Daniel Peterson, expert witness?

Did anyone else catch this write up in the SL Tribune about Daniel Peterson giving Brian David Mitchell props for his “impressive production”? Yes, this is the Brian David Mitchell who abducted Elizabeth Smart and forced her to become his second wife and consummate the marriage. Yes, this is the Brian David Mitchell who walked into the courtroom today and started singing Christmas carols. And yes, this is THAT Daniel Peterson…

Daniel Peterson, everyone’s favorite Mormon apologist described Mitchell’s manifesto as “artfully arranged and put together in very coherent fashion.” He also used the words “sophisticated,” “logical,” and “very skillful” to describe it.

Not having read Mitchell’s manifesto, I probably shouldn’t be so critical. Maybe Mitchell is a religious genius, like Joseph Smith. 😉

But I have the hardest time imagining that Mitchell could write anything “logical” unless your interpretation of the word “logical” is the one Daniel Peterson has. If that’s the case, then “tree = sky,” “2 + 3 = 7,” and the Mormon Church is open about its questionable history (see Dan’s logs at Mormon Curtain; he has two pages: page 1, page 2).

I have to question the “logic” of anyone who would call a Mormon apologist to testify as an expert witness in this trial, especially one whose training is in Arabic. How is Daniel Peterson even an expert in Mormon splinter groups? Maybe the logic was:

  • If Daniel Peterson is insane but seems sane enough to hold down a job,
  • And if Daniel Peterson can say Mitchell’s writings seem sane,
  • Then maybe the jury will convict him and not think Mitchell is insane.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. kuri says:

    “The logic makes sense when you buy into the presuppositions.”

    It makes sense that Peterson would say that too, because that’s Mormon apologetics in a nutshell. Start with completely bizarre and unsupportable “presuppositions,” and twist reason and logic to fit those presuppositions. Peterson was merely recognizing a kindred spirit. (Kindred only in terms of religious “logic,” of course.)

  2. LdChino says:

    Daniel Peterson as expert witness? I call shenanigans.

  3. Stan Barker says:

    You guys are so funny. You’ll launch into an attack, any attack, if it is a against a Mormon. Dr. Daniel Peterson has a PhD. What do you have? In a “nutshell,” you have nothing buy nonsense whining. You like to hear yourselves talk. You haven’t read, but you can criticize. How silly and unscholarly. Are you an expert in “Mormon splinter groups?” Then how do you know that Dan isn’t. Besides, that isn’t the issue. Try a little logical constructive thinking for a change.

  4. aerin says:

    I believe Mitchell should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I was shocked and saddened when I heard parts of Elizabeth Smart’s testimony – Mitchell is obviously quite disturbed, and I have a tremendous amount of compassion for her for surviving what she went through.

    With that said, I am not really sure why Daniel Peterson is an expert that would be able to testify to Mitchell’s competancy (so he would stand trial and possibly be convicted). If Mr. Peterson had known Mitchell before, perhaps – but simply on the basis of the writings?

    I’m not familiar with all the aspects of the case.

    I do know that Mr. Peterson receives a ton of rancor in many former mormon circles, perhaps justified, perhaps not.

  5. chanson says:

    Youll launch into an attack, any attack, if it is a against a Mormon.

    Stan, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’d like to see some evidence that you’ve read more than one post before making generalizations and accusations about what we supposedly always do here. It’s not so difficult — all of our old discussions are right here on this site.

  6. profxm says:

    Stan, I do have a PhD. It’s in Sociology. And yes, I am more of an expert on LDS splinter groups than is Daniel Peterson (I have a number of peer-reviewed publications on this, in case you’re interested). If the court case was on Arabic translations, I wouldn’t criticize Daniel Peterson’s involvement and would respect his opinion. But where is the evidence of his expertise on modern LDS splinter groups, particularly as relates to scriptural logic and its correlation to sanity?

    In the meantime, go ahead with your ad hominems, but you’ve kind of missed the point of the post.

  7. Stan Barker says:

    This isn’t complicated. I was clearly referring to what you have above. Interesting that you didn’t respond to the points.

    As to Dr. Peterson’s competency, he was not doing some kind of a direct personal mental evaluation on Mitchell. He was doing what any professor could do, especially in Dr. Peterson’s field (remember, he didn’t come to this field with only “training in Arabic”). Dr. Peterson was analyzing Mitchell’s writings for coherency and clarity of thought. Truly mentally disturbed people don’t write coherently. Mitchell did. And I have personally talked to Dan about this some time ago.

  8. profxm says:

    What do you mean you were “clearly referring to what we have above”? And I did respond directly to the “points” you made. Wow, you are confusing!

    Any professor could evaluate coherency and clarity of thought for any type of writing? Hmmm… I guarantee you that I could not do that for writing in Arabic. Additionally, I can’t do that in physics or in chemistry – I don’t understand those disciplines well enough to analyze them for clarity of thought. Dr. Peterson (I love how he is now Dr. Peterson) has no special qualifications for evaluating Brian David Mitchell’s writings. I fail to see how that is even an arguable point.

    If you want to criticize me for poking fun at Daniel Peterson, go right ahead. It’s mean of me and I probably shouldn’t. That’s a reasonable criticism. But I don’t get why you are arguing about whether he is qualified to do what he did.

    My point was and is this: Daniel Peterson is no more qualified that any other randomly chosen Mormon to analyze Brian David Mitchell’s writings for coherency. I would think the ideal person for this would be a psychiatrist or psychologist specially trained for this, not a Professor of Near Eastern Studies who moonlights as a Mormon apologist.

    My second point is that Daniel Peterson considered the writings of someone who seems quite insane to be coherent. That strikes me as funny. Why can’t that just be funny?

  9. Mike says:

    Given how such trials go, I can see Peterson’s testimony being allowable about the internal logic about Mitchell’s writing. But it should be tempered by recognition of the fact that people can be judged criminally insane and still maintain a sense of coherency and logic. Coherency and good logic are not necessarily indicators of sanity, and poor logic and incoherent writing are not necessarily indicators of insanity. Peterson’s out of his area of expertise here, if you ask me. And yes, I have a PhD and have peer-reviewed publications in a field very much related to the case. FWIW, Profxm, me, and about a dozen other people come to mind as being more suitable expert witnesses on this particular issue. But the attorneys asked Peterson instead, for whatever reasons seemed best to them. That’s how the process goes….

    I was disappointed that the article didn’t include any mention of the former police detective who has also been called as an expert witness. His testimony ought to be revealing. (Maybe he hasn’t yet been called.)

    It is a fascinating, sad, case. I hope that Smart finds success in her mission and is able to move on from the ordeal. And I hope that Mitchell remains in jail where he won’t be able to harm anyone else.

  10. profxm says:

    Mike, you would be a much better expert witness for this than I would.

    Also, I second your last point – fascinating and sad. I hope Elizabeth can recover from the ordeal and that Mitchell remains in jail.

  11. kuri says:

    My second point is that Daniel Peterson considered the writings of someone who seems quite insane to be coherent. That strikes me as funny. Why cant that just be funny?

    It can be and is. Because it’s a lot like a 9/11 troofer testifying as an expert witness on the logic and coherence of an Obama birfer.

  12. kuri says:

    Truly mentally disturbed people dont write coherently.

    Further proof that laypeople shouldn’t claim expertise on subjects they have no specialized knowledge about.

  13. Leaving aside the question of Petersen’s qualifications, what he said made sense to me. As I understood it, he noted the coherence of the internal logic of Mitchell’s writings if you were to accept certain axiomatic assumptions. That sounds like a reasonable thing to say.

    For example, LDS beliefs have a certain internal consistency given LDS assumptions. I believe Mormonism is disconnected with reality, but its internal logic makes a kind of sense if you don’t ask too many questions.

    The vast majority of Mormons aren’t raving lunatics. Perhaps Mitchell isn’t either, no matter how monstrous his actions are.

  14. profxm says:

    Jonathan, all good points. It is possible that Mitchell’s manifesto may make sense within the worldview of Mormonism. And it’s true that you have to take as givens certain assumptions in order for that to be true. However, as Mike noted, that doesn’t mean Mitchell is sane (or crazy; oh, and Mike, as a psychologist, would be in a much better position to comment on that than I am as a sociologist).

    I also agree that most Mormons are not raving lunatics. They may hold some beliefs that don’t reflect reality, but that doesn’t necessarily make someone insane.

  15. dpc says:

    Profxm, I haven’t commented here in a really long time, but this post isn’t your best work. You have to look at Dr. Peterson’s remarks in context and I think you fail to do that. He was called to testify as an expert on religious writings. He wouldn’t have been able to testify in the first place if the judge ruled that he didn’t have the credentials to be an expert witness. If you don’t think he is qualified to testify, that may be something that you may want to fault the judge with.

    Furthermore, from reading the article, the only sense I get is that Dr. Peterson was called to testify that Mitchell’s writings were coherent and internally consistent, crucial evidence to rebut the defense’s argument that Mitchel is incompetent to stand trial. And someone can be competent to stand trial yet be found legally insane by the jury. There are two different standards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.