I especially appreciate being asked that question, because it is easy to answer, and I like easy questions better than hard ones. As a Latter-day Saint, like any other honest man I am obliged to accept only the truth. I simply have to investigate whether men live on the moon. I am reasonably certain they don't, but anyway, we'll soon know by direct exploration. If we don't find them there, they don't live there. As a Latter-day Saint my problem is as simple as that.Oliver B. Huntington's source appears to be an entry in his own journal in 1881. That entry is quoting Philo Dibble who had made a considerable effort to collect information about Joseph Smith and make presentations in several Mormon communities. It is not known where Philo Dibble acquired the information. Although it is not known if Joseph believed in moonmen, several close to him did. These include his brother Hyrum and Brigham Young.
Now what about the Prophet Joseph Smith? I don't know whether he said men live on the moon or not. But whether he did or not troubles me not in the least. A prophet is wonderful because he sometimes speaks for the Lord. This occurs on certain occasions when the Lord wills it. On other occasions, he speaks for himself, and one of the wonderful doctrines of this Church is that we don't believe in the infallibility of any mortal. If in his speculations the Prophet thought there were people on the moon, this has no effect on my belief that on other occasions, when the Lord willed it, he spoke the ideas that the Lord inspired him to say. It is for these moments of penetrating insight that I honor and follow him.
Oliver Huntington also says that he received a blessing from Joseph Smith Sr. which said that he would go on a mission to preach to the inhabitants of the moon. The blessing record indicates clearly that it was his father that gave him the blessing and not Joseph Smith Sr., although Joseph Smith Sr. presided at the meeting. This type of blessing would not be unusual considering the public opinion of the time.
In 1976 Patrick Moore, Director of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association, wrote of William Herschel: "As an observer it is possible that he has never been equalled, and between 1781 and his death, in 1822, every honour that the scientific world could bestow came his way. His views about life in the Solar System were, then, rather surprising. He thought it possible that there was a region below the Sun's fiery surface where men might live, and he regarded the existence of life on the Moon as 'an absolute certainty.'"
In 1780 Herschel in a letter to a disbelieving astronomer, asked: "Who can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt, that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or another?"
Also in 1822,the German astronomer Gruithuisen announced that he had discovered a lunar city with a collection of gigantic ramparts extending 23 miles in either direction. It was not until 1838, with the publication of the writings of Beer and Madler, that the scientific world concluded that the moon is definitely unable to support higher life forms. The scientific conclusion did not become the popular opinion for at least 60 years. In 1835 another event that shaped public opinion about inhabitants of the moon took place. John Herschel, son of William Herschel was at the Cape of Good Hope with a large telescope to survey the southern skies. Richard Locke, a reporter for the New York Sun, decided to take advantage of the slow communications. He published six articles describing John Herschel's work. The first article explained that the telescope was so powerful that it brought the surface of the moon to an "apparent proximity of about eighty yards." After describing various features and forms of life, his final article described two types of moonmen. Patrick Moore has detailed the reception these articles received: "The articles met with mixed reception, but some eminent critics swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. `These new discoveries are both probable and plausible,' declared the New York Times, while the New Yorker thought that the observations `had created a new era in astronomy and science generally.'"
The New York Evangelist published a lengthy summary which was reprinted in the 11 September 1835 PAINSVILLE TELEGRAPH (Ohio), a paper commonly read in the neighboring Mormon center of Kirtland. Although the Sun confessed its hoax on September 16th, this was not printed in the Painsville Telegraph.
In Massachusetts a women's club wrote to Herschel for his views on how to contact these moonmen and convert them to Christianity. One minister "told his congregation that, on account of the wonderful discoveries of the present age, he lived in expectation of one day calling upon them for a subscription to buy Bibles for the benighted inhabitants of the moon" The following year the American theologian Dr. Timiothy Dwight, in his book THEOLOGY, declared that "it is most rationally concluded that intelligent beings in great multitudes inhabit [the Moon's] lucid regions, being far better and happier than ourselves."
The question still remains: Did Joseph Smith believe in an inhabited moon? From the historical evidence now available the answer must be : Not proven. But, all things considered, the possibility, or probability, that he did cannot reasonably be denied. For all others of that era the question seems quite insignificant, especially given contemporary beliefs. But in the case of Joseph Smith, he claimed to be a prophet. Some extremists contend that his claim demands that his knowledge in every area be superior to that of others in his era. If he believed any false notion of his day, so these critics say, his credibility must be doubted. Others, not so demanding of infallible insight in a prophet, would be more comfortable with a description of God's revelation which allowed for the human AND the divine. As Rev. J. R. Dummelow so aptly described the authors of the Bible, so might one say of Joseph Smith: "Though purified and ennobled by the influence of His Holy Spirit; men each with his own peculiarities of manner and disposition--each with his own education or want of education--each influenced differently from another by the different experiences and disciplines of his life. Their inspiration did not involve a suspension of their natural faculties; it did not even make them free from earthly passion; it did not make them into machines--it left them men."
And his description of the author of Genesis: "His scientific knowledge may be bounded by the horizon of the age in which he lived, but the religious truths he teaches are irrefutable and eternal."
Therefor Joseph Smith may or may not have said there were men on the moon, but it shouldn't bother me either way.
Henry Eyring, The Faith of a Scientist (Bookcraft, 1969)
Van Hale, "Mormons and Moonmen", Sunstone (Sept.-Oct 1982) p. 12
Patrick Moore, New Guide to the Moon (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1976)
Rev. Timothy Harley, Moon Lore (Swan Sonnenchein, London: 1885)