Some see the lack of current physical evidence of the Gold Plates as detrimental to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That might be true if the Book of Mormon was nothing but a historical text claiming to be only a history and nothing more.
But it’s not that, the Book of Mormon is first and foremost a religious text. It is framed around a historical people as all people who write religious texts do so using the stories and evidences of God in their own lives and communities. Because it is a religious text, claiming to be delivered directly by God, there is no need for direct source text to be produced. It is either a fraud made up by a man, or it is a fully holy and divine text preserved by God.
That’s not the point though, the point is that the lack of the Gold Plates as evidence is not detrimental to the Book of Mormon’s truth claims. Far from it. I’m not saying that not having the Gold Plates makes the Book of Mormon more true, no, what I am saying is that not having the Gold Plates makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more true, in the context of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (meaning if the Book of Mormon is true, then not having the plates gives more credibility to the authority of the Church then if we did have the plates).
I’m basing this thought on the seemingly infinite translations of the Bible that we have because everyone who knows thirty words of Greek and Hebrew has decided to take a crack at creating their own translation of the Biblical texts. The only reason that is possible is because we have publicly available source materials for biblical texts. These translations over the last 2000 years have helped to spawn nearly infinite sects of Christianity, all who claim belief in the bible but come out with their own version of Christianity based on which translation they read and which interpretation of that translation they want to believe.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spawned a few restorationist movements, but very little compared to that of Christianity as a whole and none of these are able to produce a different text for the Book of Mormon, none can claim that their church is true because they have a real translation and Joseph Smith was a fraud. How many men would have come forward by now in the last 200 years with their own translation of the Gold Plates in an attempt to undermine the prophetic call of Joseph Smith?
I have no doubt that we would be seeing just much confusion around the Book of Mormon and its “intended” meaning as we see around the Bible. Not to mention the authenticity of the Gold Plates would be under never ending scrutiny, and I think most people would be hinging their testimony of the Book of Mormon not on faith in God, but instead on the legitimacy that one scholar or another put into the Gold Plates. I would bet my life that the Church having ownership of the plates would make no difference for any critic of the Church. It would be just as easy for them to dismiss Joseph Smith’s translation and prophetic calling simply by producing their own “translation” and then claiming that if Joseph was called of God, then he wouldn’t have made this mistake or that mistake and so on.
Without the Gold Plates, we have a book that is either right or wrong. There is no ambiguity. There is no fence sitting. Its authenticity either proves Joseph Smith as a prophet or a charlatan. There is no room for a middle ground or alternative explanations. No one can prove their way into a testimony and no one can prove their way out. It is all based on faith and faith in the witness one receives from God.
And that is God’s genius in taking the Gold Plates away. First, it protects them from the evil men that would inevitably defile their divine nature. Second, it protects the Book of Mormon itself from evil men that would use the plates to defile its divine nature. God has revealed to us the words from within the "Ark of the Americas” through his high priest, Joseph Smith. And we would do well to listen.