harbinger, eyewitnesses are not particularly reliable as a source of testimony. It's been shown time and again that an eyewitness's memory can and does change based on what they believe to be true. This article
examines just how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be, especially the last section. I especially liked the following quote, from Dr. Gary Wells, a member of a panel commissioned by the Department of Justice to establish guidelines of eyewitness testimony: "Like trace evidence, eyewitness evidence can be contaminated, lost, destroyed or otherwise made to produce results that can lead to an incorrect reconstruction of the crime."
There's also the fact that simple changes in how a question is phrased to an eyewitness can change their answers, as reported in this article
. Think about it - simply changing the verb used can cause people to report different things. There's an even more disturbing point on the second page - if you show people series of pictures while telling them a story about a crime (with a suspect and several innocent characters), and then show them a picture of one of the innocents plus three unrelated people several days later, 60% of them will misidentify the innocent as the suspect, and another 16% will pick one of the unrelated people as the suspect. That's over 75% - three out of four.
Worse, after watching a mock crime and then being shown a police lineup that doesn't include the actual perpetrator, 33% of people will pick someone anyway - and that goes up to 78% if the police express confidence that they have the perpetrator in the lineup.
And on top of that, eyewitnesses who discuss their recollections with each other will tend to conform their memories to each other - even if that changes their recollections from what actually happened. This article's
section on reconstructive memory touches on that - people who all heard a story remembered it slightly differently, and as they were allowed to recount and discuss it with each other, they changed the stories, usually by simplifying or omitting details.
So, no, having eyewitnesses to something who all claim to remember it the same way is pure hogwash. So those eight eyewitnesses to John Smith, the founder of Mormonism, actually reduce the likelihood that things happened the way they claimed. Most likely, they all talked about it afterward (and with John Smith, to boot), and ultimately talked themselves into believing that something miraculous had happened.