What’s Worse, Bad Apologetics or No Apologetics?

The golden era of Mormon apologetics ran from Nibley to FAIR and Old FARMS. With so many distinctive doctrines as well as a high public profile, Mormonism attracts a lot of criticism, so the urge to publicly defend Mormon beliefs is understandable, and there is now plenty of Mormon apologetics out there. What is badly needed is some reflection on the whole enterprise, trying to distinguish between good and bad apologetics and perhaps some thoughts on when the best response is no apologetics (polygamy comes to mind — trying to defend it just seems to dig a deeper hole). Enter the latest publication from Greg Kofford Books: Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, a collection of essays covering a broad spectrum of views on the topic. We will have two reviews of the book and maybe a Q&A here at T&S in a couple of weeks. For now, I want to address a narrower question: What’s worse, bad apologetics or no apologetics? Does bad apologetics do more harm than good?

That’s a pressing question because there is a lot of bad apologetics. This is partly because we have moved from the golden era of apologetics to the age of social media apologetics. No need for reviewers or editors to vet and edit your essay defending this or that doctrine or episode, you can just draft and post, and plenty of rank and file Mormons are doing just that. Perhaps it is just in the nature of things that 90% of Mormon apologetics is bad apologetics. This reflects Sturgeon’s Law, in which science fiction writer Ted Sturgeon famously acknowledged that 90% of science fiction is trash, but then asserted that 90% of what is produced in any genre or field is trash. But I suspect bad Mormon apologetics does more harm than bad writing in other fields. If you doubt that, consider the difficult position that several generations of bad LDS history has put the Church in. So yes, identifying and avoiding bad apologetics seems worth the effort.

Here’s a starting point: In order to defend a Mormon doctrine in print, you should know what you are talking about. Corollary: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t attempt to defend a Mormon doctrine in print. Knowing what you are talking about does not mean being a Mormon theologian. Mormonism doesn’t have any theologians. What it does mean is that you have read the literature, so to speak, on that doctrine or topic. The knowledge you pick up in Sunday School class, being a church-going Mormon, is good enough to share your feelings or bear a testimony, but not enough to produce good apologetics if you don’t put in the work to read up on the topic. Which is why there is so much bad apologetics.

Here’s a current example which is apparently circulating widely: “Influential Anti-Mormon Caught Spreading Lies About LDS Church.” Overheated title: check. Overheated fonts, with bolding, underlining, and large font: check. No comments, so no reader can correct or contradict your misstatements: check. But the biggest problem is that the attempted refutations seem like knee-jerk responses based on Sunday Mormonism rather than with any particular knowledge about the topics addressed. It’s bad apologetics.

An Evolving View of the Godhead

Take the first point the post tries to refute, that “there were major [changes to the Book of Mormon that] reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead” (parenthetical in original). There are several publications one ought to consult to get started on this topic. I’d look at Dan Vogel’s “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God” (in Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, Signature Books, 1989), Thomas Alexander’s “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine” (Sunstone, 1980, Vol. 4, p. 24-33, a shortened form of which appears in Line Upon Line), several chapters in Charlie Harrell’s book This is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011), several chapters in Terryl Givens’ book Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (OUP, 2015), and “The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Early Myths,” by Ari Breuning and David Paulsen (probably the closest thing the Church has to a theologian), in the FARMS Review of Books, 2001, Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 109-69. None of these are cited or referred to in the post.

The post seems to reject idea that the LDS view of the Godhead ever changed or evolved. Here’s Paulsen, certainly a scholar sympathetic to LDS beliefs: “That Latter-day Saint understanding of the nature of God has undergone significant development is not at issue. What is at issue is the particular course that this ongoing development has taken.” Vogel and others suggest the earliest view, reflected in the Book of Mormon, is modalism, aka Sabellianism. Paulsen argues that that early view is best viewed as a particular form of trinitarianism, “social trinitarianism,” which some theologians find hard to distinguish from tritheism, belief in three gods. Paulsen firmly denies that tritheism is the early LDS view. Paulsen asserts that early Mormon thinking, in particular the Book of Mormon, is definitively trinitarian in that it affirms three persons in the Godhead that constitute “one God.” But the author of the post we’re talking about rejects the view that “Joseph had a Trinitarian view of the Godhead until at least the mid 1830s” and states: “[T]hat is demonstrably false.” He seems to think tritheism is the LDS position. He’s trying to defend the LDS view of the Godhead without really understanding it. Good intentions, bad apologetics.


The post’s discussion of polygamy supports my suggestion that in some cases no apologetics is the best alternative. The major point the post makes in defense of polygamy is that since there are no acknowledged offspring from Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, and since Joseph had many children with his first wife Emma, that therefore Joseph only had, uh, occasional sex with some of his plural wives. As if having sex with only half the plural wives makes it okay, whereas sex with all the wives would make it wrong? That is wholly inconsistent with the later, public practice of polygamy under Brigham Young and John Taylor (they flaunted their offspring the way current Mormons count their grandchildren) as well as the Book of Mormon’s sole justification for polygamy: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30).

The purpose of the polygamy section, besides defending the LDS practice of it, was to distinguish Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy from how Warren Jeffs and his group practice it. The post somehow fails to mention the biggest difference: Warren Jeffs publicly acknowledges his practice, relies on a public theology to justify it, and has been held publicly accountable for his practice; whereas Joseph Smith never publicly acknowledged his practice of polygamy, never published the revelation that justified it (as noted, the Book of Mormon does not justify it the way he practiced it), and he never had to publicly defend his actions. I’m not sure most Mormons today grasp how “secret” Joseph’s practice was. You won’t learn it from the post. Again, good intentions, bad apologetics. For a review of a book that nicely and fairly objectively summarizes current scholarship on Nauvoo polygamy, read this earlier post.

Let’s wind up on sort of a positive note. Bad apologetics probably works if you are preaching to the choir, at least a choir that doesn’t ask questions. And most bad apologetics is aimed at the mainstream Mormon choir, not as a reply to critics and not even to neutral readers. So put it in your ward bulletin or your family newsletter rather than publishing it to all the world! Honestly, if your Methodist neighbor or Catholic coworker asked a sincere question about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, and your response was, “Well, evidence suggests he only had occasional sex with half of his thirty or so plural wives …” well, I don’t think they would give a knowing nod. They would probably think you have a rather strange view of marriage and morality, and they would almost certainly not let their teenage daughter into your home to babysit. Most of the time, no apologetics is better than bad apologetics.

55 comments for “What’s Worse, Bad Apologetics or No Apologetics?

  1. asdf asdf
    July 22, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    So what’s worse, someone who doesn’t defend their faith because they don’t believe it, be or someone who writes a blog post criticizing someone else’s defense because they are jealous that other people actually believe their faith?

  2. July 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I think if there were no apologetics, that would be a sign that either no one is taking it seriously, or those who like it, but have thought about it, can’t find it defensible.
    I’d rather risk 90% poor apologetics, than no apologetics.

  3. July 22, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    I gather the answer to “What’s worse” comes down to audience: “Bad apologetics probably works if you are preaching to the choir.”

    To take up a different audience, that of the doubter, the progressive, the middle way or big tent Mormon (i.e., not the choir and not the ex- crowd) of which I am a happy member —

    I often feel like all apologetics is addressed to me, that I am the intended audience. Whether I’m interested or not, whether I like it or not. I can say categorically that for me bad apologetics is worse than no apologetics. Bad apologetics is not neutral, but almost instantly engenders anger and a desire to lash back.

  4. July 22, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    It is interesting to read the question “What’s Worse, Bad Apologetics or No Apologetics?” Personally, I don’t like the word “apologetics” because it means different things to different people.

    If we change the word to read “What’s Worse, Bad Defenses or No Defenses?” then we encounter something of a paradox when comparing it to attacks on the Church, its history, and teachings.

    This is because there are generally few “bad attacks” from the viewpoint of effectiveness. A poorly reasoned and/or poorly documented attack becomes “propaganda,” which is often as useful as a well-formed argument if it can get some traction among readers.

    It seems less likely that detractors would ask the question, “What’s worse, bad attacks on the Church or no attacks on the Church?” It seems that self-policing for accuracy and completeness (as we detect for “apologists”) is less common or absent among critics.

    The CES Letter reflects very very poor scholarship and worse transparency. But it has been, according to its author, a highly downloaded documented. As such, it may be one of the more influential propaganda pieces in the past few years.

    This is unfortunate because if it were flipped 180 degrees into an “apologetic” piece, using the same methodology but substituting defenses for attacks, it probably would have been stillborn due to its inherent weaknesses and labelled “bad apologetics” by bloggers, if any noticed its publication.

  5. July 22, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    (Responding to brianhales)
    Of course there is an important asymmetry. A critic only needs to criticize. An apologist has to do both, has to frame the criticism in order to motivate the apologetics. Arguably the sole (primary?) function of the CES letter was to list a lot of questions. If a 180 degree flipped apologist piece had come first (without respect to quality, several responses to the CES letter are in fact circulating), the first-out-of-the-gate apologist piece would have done all the work of stating the questions by itself.

    This is important relative to the CES letter in particular, because most of what I hear about reactions to the letter is that it encourages people to ask questions. The purported answers or non-answers or lack of an answer is sufficiently transparent that few readers stop there, but instead take on the questions for themselves and go looking for answers. It seems to me, trying to put myself in the shoes of a loyal stay-in-the-boat apologist, that such an apologist would think the principal ‘harm’ has been done as soon as people start asking questions.

  6. Glenn Thigpen
    July 22, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Without any defense of the faith, we would be left with only the attacks. The practice of polygamy can be defended easily because of a plethora of Biblical references. The strawman about occasional sex as opposed to no sex or prolific sex is just that. It can be pertinent when it concerned a woman sealed to Joseph while married civilly to another man. But the greatest service that “apologetics” has is the production and making publicly available of the primary and secondary documents related to church history. An example is the information on Joseph Smith’s polygamy provided by Brother Hales.

    The availability of the information allows those who are looking for the truth to sift through the information and make up their own minds. For some, it does not matter either because they are solidly entrenched in their testimonies or because they are solidly entrenched in their unbelief of the restoration.


  7. Clark Goble
    July 22, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Unsurprisingly I disagree with both Vogel and Paulson on the nature of God issue, although I’ll not get into that here.

    I think you’re dead on though Dave. There’s nothing wrong with lay apologetics but at a minimum I think people have a duty to actually engage with the existing arguments. Often that’s not done. The second problem is people weighing in on topics that are difficult at best and which they have no training in. Linguistic influence is the classic example. I actually think there’s more areas lay people can weigh in than some set of elites who get to do all the talking. But what counts are ultimately the arguments. Arguments that don’t engage counterarguments usually are bad arguments.

    One thing I do like about contemporary apologetics is that there is more willingness to be critical of other apologetics. Brant Gardner critiquing some of the arguments of Sorenson regarding mesoAmerican settings is a great example.

    An other thing to keep in mind is that just because someone is an expert doesn’t mean their arguments are always good. Lots of examples of really well educated people making bad cases in some places. (Which touches upon the footnote discussion from the other day) However what sometimes happens is people find a few bad arguments and then dismiss the whole book or article, which is likewise unfair.

  8. Clark Goble
    July 22, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Christian, I’m not sure what a typical apologist is. I think most of the ones I know though want people to ask more questions. The problem is that often doubters and skeptics want only certain questions asked. They want people to know especially about the things apologists can’t answer well, but want people to not ask the questions they can’t answer well. (IMO) The reality is that all sides have things they can’t explain terribly well. What was it Pres. Uchtdorf said? Doubt your doubts or something like that. They whole “I’m only asking questions” bit is a nice bit of sophistry by critics, but they usually don’t want you to ask too many question. Again all IMO.

    I’d also second what Brian says. It’s hard to say what apologetics are. Often the best apologetics is very blurry relative to more general scholarship questions. If you think a reading of history is correct, you defend your reading. In that sense every historical paper is apologetic in some sense. The only real question is whether you engage with all the evidence and arguments well and how honest you are about flaws.

  9. July 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

    As the author of the piece you have taken issue with, I have a few thoughts to contribute. First, the purpose of the article was to start a conversation with a broader audience than scholarly apologetics is traditionally able to reach. There’s a reason that most LDS scholars probably don’t ever reach more than a few hundred people.

    The reason I care about broadening the reach of apologetics is that a broad swathe of the LDS community is being introduced to what I would call “bad anti-Mormon scholarship” (a parallel perhaps to what you call “bad apologetics”) and influenced by these faulty arguments, I wanted to provide lay members with some information they could use to counter the “bad anti-Mormon scholarship” found in documents such as the CES Letter.

    This required me to write an article that would keep the interest of a lay audience (which does mean a blog style that may include what you refer to as “Overheated fonts, with bolding, underlining, and large font”).

    But more importantly, it also required me to compromise the true depth of the subjects being addressed. My hope is that doing so didn’t simultaneously mislead my audience. So, the topics are certainly much more complex and nuanced than they appear to be in the article. And I certainly faced a lot of internal debate as to the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

    Also, closing comments has nothing to do with not wanting to get feedback or corrections. That’s why I left my email address in the same place I stated that comments were closed. My blog articles attract hundreds of vitriolic comments from ex-Mormons, so I have since unpublished all the comments on my website and closed the comments for all posts. If someone has a criticism or evidence that I need to reassess what I’ve written, they can always email it to me and I always take it into consideration.

    In any case, I have a few things to say about your treatment of my points. I will respond to your concerns in the comment below.

  10. July 23, 2017 at 1:01 am


    The purpose of this section was not to deal with the full complexity of this issue, but to instead introduce lay readers to a framework that can be used to understand why antagonistic claims about Joseph’s polygamy deserve more scrutiny than the superficial facts would seem to require.

    The polygamy section revolves around this point: The evidence shows that lust was not a motivating factor…because if it was, there would be more evidence of a sexually unrestrained Joseph. And if it is the case that lust was not the motivating cause of polygamy, we should think twice about the problems that all of the controversial aspects of polygamy seem to present. For example, our discussion of polyandry goes from…oh he just wanted to have sex with other men’s wives to…why would he do something like that? Is there more to the story? I provide links so that they can get more of the story on those issues.

    On to what you say about secrecy. Honestly, I don’t feel like you are genuinely trying to engage with the article at this point. The way that the article distinguishes Joseph’s polygamy from Jeff’s polygamy is by showing that lust was not a factor for Joseph. On the other hand, there is significant evidence that Jeffs was sex crazed…to the point of molesting even his own young children.

    As to your seemingly antagonistic claims about the secrecy:

    The history of Joseph’s polygamy shows a clear reluctance on Joseph’s part to practice it–for reasons of personal repulsion (perhaps less substantiated), fear of mob violence (much more substantiated), anxiety about how Emma would react, and we can infer that he understood what polygamy could mean for the way that he would be viewed by fellow Saints and the success they would have in missionary work.

    Whether concerns such as being beaten to death justify Joseph’s secrecy is a matter I will leave up to God. What is clear is that there are certainly reasonable reasons that Joseph’s polygamy was kept secret which don’t necessarily involve insinuations of poor character.

    Perhaps in his shoes you would have greater courage. Or perhaps you were simply frustrated that I didn’t explain this and every other difficult part of polygamy all in the same blog post–a blog post intended for lay readers who do not have a scholar’s mindset or interests.

    An Evolving View of the Godhead

    The purpose of this part of the post is to engage with what I think most Latter-day Saints understand when they read Runnells’s claim (and what I think he may even mean by his claim). When I use the term Trinitarianism in the article, I use it in the sense that I think the LDS reader understands it in an anti-Mormon claim and in the way that they view Trinitarianism in general–the modalist view.

    So, really this section is an attempt to undermine the view that the Book of Mormon or Joseph’s early teachings are at all modalist. Of course, this does little to answer other questions, but I think it answers the questions of the audience I have in mind.

    I’m answering their question and using their definition of terms–not answering a scholar’s question or using a scholar’s terminology.

    I could have tried to clear up a longstanding misunderstanding about what Trinitarianism means, but then again, who can really explain what Trinitarianism really means (tongue in cheek)? I think I would have confused the reader in my attempt and their real question “Is/ was the Book of Mormon Trinitarian (read: modalist)” would have gone unanswered.

    In hindsight, I wish I had included something in parentheses that would have included a link to an explanation for my decision to purposely conflate Trinitarianism with Modalism.

  11. p
    July 23, 2017 at 9:36 am

    LDS apologetics seems more “niche market” than ever, very few of the considerable number of people I know in the church pay even the least bit of attention. Besides general apathy regarding matters that require serious thought (our recent Presidential election, for instance), this phenomenon may also reflect the apparent change in definition of the word “true” regarding the Book of Mormon. “True” today means “word of God,” not literal history. Thus the need for one formerly dominant apologetic variant is eliminated, who needs archaeology?

  12. July 23, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Regarding polygamy, naturalists cannot conceive any motive besides “libido” as driving the process for Joseph Smith. I think Dustin and Brittney provide an excellent introduction to the overall complicated issue by suggesting that “religious beliefs” instead motivated not only Joseph, but also those 115 men and women who entered plural unions in Nauvoo before the martyrdom.

    It seems the criticism of “incomplete” apologetics (or perhaps “bad” apologetics) will be forever applicable to any discussion of Nauvoo plural marriage that fails to incorporate the information found in all 3000+ document’s I’ve uploaded to MormonPolygamyDocument.org. But we need to start somewhere :-)

    It is true the CES Letter “asks questions,” but too often the questions it asks are based upon misrepresentations, half-truths, and falsehoods concerning LDS history and teachings. Unsuspecting readers might not detect the deception and echo the question as if it were valid, rather than partially or completely inaccurate. If the CES Letter author was seeking truth, it is probable he would have constructed his “letter” much differently. As I said, it is poor scholarship, but excellent propaganda.

  13. Clark Goble
    July 23, 2017 at 10:19 am

    P, I’m always loath to extend from one location to the whole church. For instance I rather doubt my ward, with numerous professors in it, reflects the church at wide.

  14. July 23, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Far from eliminating the need for *good* apologetics, p’s remark underscores the need for even better apologetics. If most Mormons don’t read what is available, or “study it out in their own minds,” most of us are nevertheless vaguely aware of something “out there.” A cousin links to something on Facebook, your old mission companion reminds you at a reunion of “that thing we found in the closet in that rat-trap of an apartment,” somebody in your ward loudly announces their decision to leave the Church because of “the things.” You may not know much about it, but it’s in the air.

    Good apologetics not only addresses the real issues; it does it in a way that meets the intellectual and emotional needs of Church members (and others, but members first of all). Well done apologetics has the chance, then, of reaching more people in a more effective way. Even if that “more” is still an abysmally small number, then what is “out there” is better, and less weird, and when someone brings it up in Gospel Doctrine it fits better and is closer to the truth.

    I do not at all like the culture of the recently past Mormon apologetics world — it strikes me as a cross between the pro-wrestling world and a convention of alien abductees. But I am grateful for some — *some* — of the work being done, and for a site like FAIRMormon where I can get a quick, usually well-written rundown on what unfriendly people are currently focused on, along with Mormon research in response, when some of the anti- or ex- world leaks into my own.

  15. July 23, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Brian, thanks for weighing in. Certainly critics have a much lower bar to clear, and they have the advantage of being able to throw lots of stuff around, much of it flawed and inconsistent, but use whatever sticks. That defenders or apologists face a higher bar and a degree of accountability the critics don’t face is one of the reasons the Church has avoided publishing “official” apologetics until recently, allowing groups like FAIR and Old FARMS (and now the Interpreter) to fill that role. With the Gospel Topics essays, the Church seems to have finally taken that step of issuing its own apologetic material, albeit a mild form that does not respond directly to specific criticisms but speaks generally to the relevant issues generally raised by critics. I certainly applaud their decision to rely on LDS scholars to draft the essays and provide quotations and references to sources that give some credibility to the essays.

    As to the specifics of defending Nauvoo polygamy, that really has to take into account both the later practice of LDS polygamy (which embraced offspring and, necessarily, the physical unions that implies) and the Book of Mormon justification for the practice (as noted in the post). If one accepts resulting children as the primary rationale for the practice (and sex is necessarily part of that story), then denying that lust or arousal or physical attraction is part of the package as well seems like a tough sell, at least to adults. That seems like an argument that has fairly narrow appeal (to that portion of the active LDS membership that has to acknowledge LDS polygamy but desperately wants to deny it had anything to do with sex) and little credibility. I know some participants offer a variety of explanations or rationalizations for their participation in polygamy, but it is naive to take those at face value, as it would be to take at face value the same sort of rationalizations one encounters in daily life for all sorts of questionable activities.

  16. July 23, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Dustin (or Brittany), thanks for responding. I think you really need to distinguish between strict monotheism, modalism, orthodox trinitarianism, social trinitarianism, and tritheism in any such argument, regardless of the audience. Furthermore, the idea that because many of the references in the Book of Mormon are consistent with trinitarianism in one of its formulations (as argued by Paulsen) and that all the fuss about a confusing LDS view of the Godhead is misplaced ignores the next century of LDS confusion on the topic. First the Nauvoo theology introduced a trinity of Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael (rather than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), then Brigham Young brought Adam into the discussion. Trying to figure out the links between the various divine persons understandably created a lot of confusion among rank and file Mormons in the 19th century, which the Church attempted to resolve in a definitive fashion with the semi-official publications of James Talmage in the early 20th century, capped by the publication of “The Father and the Son,” labelled a “Doctrinal Exposition of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” published in the Improvement Era in 1916. (There is a slightly edited version republished in the Ensign in 2002.)

    If the rather general trinitarian-sounding statements in the Book of Mormon were enough to fully define the Mormon doctrine of God, the resulting history (the new Nauvoo theology, LDS confusion in the later 19th century, the need to issue an official doctrinal exposition in the 20th century to clear up the confusion) makes no sense. The recent embrace by the Church of a Heavenly Mother is just the latest development that throws some confusion into LDS thinking about the Godhead, which continues to show a line-upon-line development.

  17. p
    July 23, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Will also say it’s enlightening to look at apologetics of other faiths, in particular but by NO means limited to Jehovahs Witness & Seventh Day Adventist. We are not the only religion w/ credibility issues based on, let’s face it, formative but symbolic-only principles, history, prophecy.

    “These events paved the way for the Adventists who formed the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They contended that what had happened on October 22 was not Jesus’ return, as Miller had thought, but the start of Jesus’ final work of atonement, the cleansing in the heavenly sanctuary, leading up to the Second Coming.” Wikipedia

  18. Mike Maxwell
    July 23, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    The problem I see in the “Influential Anti-Mormon Caught Spreading Lies About LDS Church” piece is the “silly hogwash” tone regarding the five issues addressed. It responds to each of the five issues with a “here is why this is absolutely false” tone, rather than dealing with the complexities of each. It attempts to keep the world a very safe, black and white place for the reader, which is so much the cause of our faith crisis epidemic in Mormonism today. The CES letter is amateur religious criticism that is effective only because of our long practice of whitewashing Mormon history. That whitewashing has left so many easy targets for criticism in the new Internet transparent world. We have hidden so many issues under the rug for so long, rather than wrestling through the apologetic discourse to work them into our faith narratives. This blog post just seems to want to re-whitewash, rather than sort through, the nuances and complexities. So I would agree that this is bad apologetics and ultimately does more harm than good.

  19. Michael H
    July 23, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    When I first gave the CES Letter a read, I really only found more detailed articulations of questions that I had been asking myself since my mission. It didn’t seem like a novel or controversial thing. None of the content felt new. Runnells and I may both simply be less analytical and naive than most, but I had heard many well-meaning Mormons articulate questions about priestood and blacks or the Kinderhook plates long before the CES Letter came around.

    I’m not saying Runnells is totally well-meaning, but I’m wary of critiques of the CES Letter that make it seem like only a conniving anti-Mormon would ask many of the questions it asks.

  20. Clark Goble
    July 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I think this issue is less the questions than the way the questions are framed and partially answered in misleading ways. But I also think apologists need to be wary of an attitude that you’d have to be an idiot to have the questions. Some either intentionally or unintentionally communicate that in their apologetics. Such apologetics have the focus more of boundary maintenance than trying to provide a space for people to stay. That is it tends to privilege those without doubts telling them how great they are and how bad the others are. That pushes people away who are on the boundaries. Effectively it’s not apologetics at all.

    One thing everyone needs to do is keep in mind who you are writing to when making a defense. If you’re primarily engaging the critic then you’re doing it wrong. The issue isn’t the critic but the person with doubts being swayed by the critic. You still need to engage with the critic and their arguments. But they aren’t your audience. (I include myself in this as heaven knows I’ve fallen down on this point many times)

  21. Kevin Christensen
    July 24, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Fortunately, the hypothetical dilemma regarding the available choices does not describe the real dilemma and responsibility: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)

  22. Michael H
    July 24, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    I don’t think Runnells should be faulted for framing his work in a way that proves (or tries to prove, anyway) his point. If so, then wouldn’t the Gospel Topics essays be guilty of the same offense? l’m all for pieces that counter the conclusions of the CES Letter, but I’m skeptical of those that question the legitimacy of a document merely because it tries to present history in a way that or delegitimizes church activity, because there’s no denying that the Gospel Topics essays were written to do the opposite. A polemicist’s conclusions should be questioned, but not his/her mere act of trying to prove a point.

  23. Clark Goble
    July 24, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Michael, I think the question is whether he’s proving points at all or asking questions. That is, what is the role of sophistry in all this? And I’m fully willing to make the same point about apologetics. The “it’s just polemics” excuse doesn’t go terribly far as a justification IMO.

  24. Steve S
    July 25, 2017 at 1:08 am

    Mormon apologetics does not and cannot pass muster in larger academic and intellectual communities. Just look at the recent exchange between Philip Jenkins, a historian of religion at Baylor, and Mormon apologist Bill Hamblin on Patheos over the idea that NHM is somehow strong evidence of a historical Book of Mormon. Jenkins destroyed Hamblin. The main aim of Mormon apologetics has been and continues to be to convince already believing Mormons that there is no huge reason to doubt or to fear and to serve as examples of highly intellectual people who believe. And it has worked tremendously. Why? Not because of the merits of the apologetics. In fact, I have heard many a story from ex-Mormons about how the apologists’ acknowledgement of facts such as the Book of Mormon anachronisms, the LDS church’s racist past, and Joseph Smith marrying 14-year-olds has led them to doubt the LDS church’s truth claims entirely. But it has worked because it has given questioning believers reassurance that lots of explanations from seemingly intellectual folks are there. Not that they have bothered to delve into these explanations too much, but they know that they are there. Consider Brandon Flowers’ engagement with Richard Dawkins a few years back. Dawkins called the Book of Mormon a fake and Flowers (the lead singer of the rock band The Killers) rose to the defense of the Book of Mormon not by airing the points of apologetics about it, but by saying that there were some really smart people who defended it at length.

  25. Steve S
    July 25, 2017 at 1:19 am

    “The history of Joseph’s polygamy shows a clear reluctance on Joseph’s part to practice it”

    Here is the catch in saying that. What does this say about God, at least the LDS concept of such? If an angel with a flaming sword really appeared to JS telling him to take more brides, then that shows god’s angels to be coercive beings and the Mormon God to be coercive as well since he presumably ordered the angel. If the Mormon God told JS to marry non-virgins (since JS did indeed marry other men’s wives) then that would be a violation of the injunction in D&C 132 (said to be words from Jesus himself to JS) where plural marriage is permitted only to virgins, then it would appear that the Mormon God is a tricky god who contradicts himself all the time.

    So I don’t know which is more defensible, the idea that the Mormon God is tricky and coercive (especially when Mormons have long insisted that god is unchanging, just, and allows people agency) or the idea that Joseph Smith satisfied his lusts by using religion as an excuse. All in all, I don’t see how marrying over 30 women including 14-year-olds and other men’s wives is reluctance to practice polygamy in any way shape or form.

  26. Anonymous
    July 25, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Steve S,
    As you referenced section 132, relating to non-virgin marriages, vs 42 and 43 outline one case where non virgin marriages are permitted in the case of adultery.

    Next we have this verse about Joseph, which would clearly apply to your individual accusation.

    Let no one, therefore, set on my servant Joseph; for I will justify him; for he shall do the sacrifice which I require at his hands for his transgressions, saith the Lord your God.

    It’s noteworthy that this verse comes right before the command to marry a virgin. So if there was a mistake made its between Joseph and the Lord. Clearly you don’t accept it, but as you pointed to 132 yourself the answers are there.

  27. July 25, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Hello everyone, I have my own little apologetics site and was wondering if anyone wouldn’t mind studying it and telling me if it’s good apologetics or bad apologetics.


  28. Steve S
    July 25, 2017 at 10:00 am

    OK then, Anonymous, allow me to make a minor correction: …violation of the injunction in D&C 132 where plural marriage is permitted only to virgins and to those whose spouses have committed adultery. We have no indication that the 11 already married women whom JS married had spouses who were committing adultery. To add to that, D&C 132 makes it clear that the marriage of virgins could only be done with the consent of the first wife (JS clearly did not acquire Emma’s consent), that it was to be no more than ten virgins (JS “reluctantly” married 30+), that the virgins married to the polygamous male would be in adultery to lie with other men (making them adulteresses to have sex with the original husbands), and that the purpose of polygamy was to multiply and replenish (no evidence of JS having kids with these women, plus, Brigham Young’s 55 wives produced only 56 kids and more than likely would have produced far more had they been with other men). JS clearly wasn’t paying strict heed to D&C 132 when marrying all of those women. If he was commanded by god to enter into every last marriage, then the Mormon god is one tricky guy.

  29. Clark Goble
    July 25, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Steve S I can’t speak to Hamblin’s debate. The thing about debates is that really it’s decided by who gets to define the goal of the debate. If the debate is over convincing non-believers that Mormons are right then the debate is lost from the start since there’s just not public information to do that. If the debate is over how one can rationally believe then it’s much better. In general if you’ve been in a lot of debates these elements outside of the content of the debate really determines how the debate goes. It’s also largely why debates get bogged down in sophistry IMO. i.e. they are usually pointless. More to the point it’s hard to conduct a debate in a fashion where people are honestly and charitably engaging with each other. It happens, but it’s pretty rare. More typically debates are like that Bill Nye vs. Bill Ham debate over creationism. Each side is largely preaching to their core supporters and not really debating.

    To the issue of Nahom, way back when it first came out (I think in the 90s) I thought it was vastly overhyped. Even if it proved to be correct it’d at best only be circumstantial evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. i.e. it’s simply at best weak evidence. Now that it’s come out that the nhm root is pretty common in the region, I think it demonstrates very little indeed. There are other apologetic evidences that are pretty weak as well such as chiasmus – which really establishes nothing IMO although it can be important to exegesis like any poetic or rhetorical structure.

    While I find those sorts of things interesting, I think apologists ought be careful thinking through the implications of such evidences.

    To your point about apologetics primarily being about keeping established members because there are smart believers, I think that’s unfortunately true. The joke of many Mormons having Nibley books unread on the shelves is often quite true. As I said earlier I also think too many apologetic writings are really about making established believers feel superior to doubters. That’s bad apologetics. But it’s simply not true that’s what all or even most apologetics are like. It’s just that many critics of apologetics tend to focus on bad examples and pretend that constitutes the whole. (Both believers and skeptics alike)

    All that said, I do think it is significant that many people like myself are aware of all the criticism of Mormonism yet still retain testimonies. For people who might not be able to really work through all the arguments, that does and should count for something. Now I’m a big advocate of inquiry. But critics who think skepticism of Mormonism is the only rational conclusion have to explain away informed, educated believers. Usually they do this by portraying them as suffering cognitive dissonance, delusion, denial or outright deception. That’s not fair and I think knowledgeable believers matter a great deal.

    I think it pretty unrealistic and unfair to expect regular lay members like Brian Flowers to be able to answer a critic. Just like in my experience the average critic actually isn’t that well informed. But it’s unfair for them to be able to answer every counter-argument.

  30. Steve S
    July 25, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Clark, I think we’re in agreement mostly. Apologetics has been quite effective at retaining members even if it has gained no traction in larger academic communities., that was my original point. However, you write, “But critics who think skepticism of Mormonism is the only rational conclusion have to explain away informed, educated believers.” My experience has been that skeptics readily address the issue and point to the fact that there are lots of informed, educated believers in religious traditions that are mutually incompatible with Mormonism. The fact is that tradition has deep roots. And the informed, educated believers almost always come from a deeply rooted past and environment in the LDS church and the same can be said of the informed educated believers in other religious traditions. The scholars coming to the defense of Mormonism are almost entirely born in the LDS church or converts at a young age. They have been socialized in the LDS environment for decades. I simply don’t know of any cases of academics rising to the defense of Mormonism based solely on the merits of the religion’s truth claims. I know many apologists like to think that they are defending Mormonism solely on its merits, but their long believing past and social environment (mostly with believing family and being well networked with believing friends) discredits them and makes them appear to be speaking more from a position of deep-rooted bias than one of objectivity. It doesn’t help that many believing scholars of Mormonism would lose their jobs at BYU for taking a position in agreement with skeptics.

  31. Steve S
    July 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    “Usually they do this by portraying them as suffering cognitive dissonance, delusion, denial or outright deception”

    The question is how would you explain why informed educated people believe in Islam or Hinduism, traditions that any believing Mormon has to by default believe to be false? The explanations you mention above are valid. But groupthink is extremely powerful. People’s opinions are often influenced if not entirely shaped by those of friends and community.

  32. Michael H
    July 25, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Just visited the Washington Post online and read an op-ed on the Church that was published today and I thought of this thread again. One thing that perhaps made the past era of FARMS/Nibley apologetics a “golden age” was the lack of so much mainstream criticism of the Church. Maybe the Church got just as much public flak in th 70s for its racism as it does today for treatment of gays or other practices and beliefs, but I just feel like the climb for apologists is getting steeper and steeper, and that no FAIR publication or Teryl Givens book can effectively counter the negative coverage of the Church by prominent national media outlets in recent years.

  33. Clark Goble
    July 26, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Steve S, regarding informed believers, certainly critics have answers. I mentioned a few of them such as delusion or cognitive dissonance. To the believer — even ones with doubts — I don’t think those are terribly persuasive and may even be insulting. It’s one of the weakest places where critics work. That’s not always enough to overcome extreme doubts caused by history that in our culture cause a visceral reaction. Primarily racism, LGBT issues, polygamy/younger marriages and to a degree feminist critiques of leadership. But it is definitely a place where critics don’t appear to realize their own weaknesses.

    Your response about BYU professors also indicates the weakness of these sorts of critiques. As soon as you are at the “they’d be fired if they didn’t say this” level of critique you’ve pretty well shown you don’t have a compelling argument.

    Michael, for the record I don’t consider the days of FARMS to be a golden age. I’m not sure why people keep saying that. To my eyes that was the time things were getting started but things were very fragmentary. There was a lot of people doing initial research on topics, but the preliminary arguments were often weak. Put an other way, I think there was a lot of bad apologetics during this era. (There was a lot of good work too of course) I think apologetics today are much better than then. I also am not sure there was a lack of mainstream criticism of the Church depending upon what you mean by that. I think there has been more media coverage of the Church – primarily due to Romney’s presidential run. I’m not sure it was particularly worse than what was in the era from 1990-2004. There were a lot of mainstream highly critical books during that era. While the recent era corresponds to the rise in what I’ll call New Atheist evangelical fervor, people forget that the religious right was much bigger in the 90’s and blew anything the New Atheists did away in terms of tone and hyperbole.

  34. Chadwick
    July 27, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    I agree with Mike Maxwell’s comment.

    Good apologetics is vulnerable, which is why I respect the Givens, even if I don’t always agree or understand their positions. They essentially take issues one at a time, and try and provide a framework that has helped them to accept the issue, citing both scripture and lived experience. But they fully own it as their journey, and share it in the hopes it may resonate and be helpful to others.

    In contrast is the Phelps website. In perusing a few of their topics, they appear to extrapolate their lived experience as the one and only lived experience. And if you don’t fit in, then that’s your problem. I want to believe they mean well, and that we actually have more in common than not. But for this individual member, yes, this is bad apologetics.

  35. Steve S
    July 27, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Clark, I’m not convinced that you carefully read my comments. In them I noted that groupthink (which you didn’t mention) is another explanation for why informed educated people maintain strong beliefs with explanatory length in not just Mormonism but other religious traditions. Plus, you didn’t answer my question. How do you explain informed educated people maintaining strong belief in Islam and/or Hinduism and using scholarly methods to explain why at length? The teachings of Islam and Hinduism are not at all compatible with those of Mormonism, so you can’t say that you consider them to true alongside Mormonism. Plus there are lots more informed educated Muslims and Hindus than informed educated Mormons. So this argument that you appear to making that we should take Mormonism seriously simply because there are informed educated believers in it doesn’t hold any water. We should never underestimate the power of groupthink and confirmation bias. Also, you know darn well that a BYU professor would lose his or her job for publishing doubts about core LDS teachings about history and reality. You apparently have forgotten the September Six. I also find your seeming denial of this odd given the fact that you just wrote about an adjunct getting fired from BYU-I for a facebook post supporting homosexuality as normal. Mormon culture and the Mormon church impose social punishment on doubters, and that is what keeps many trying extra hard acts of mental gymnastics to justify belief. Deny this at your own peril.

  36. Clark Goble
    July 27, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    I thought I mentioned groupthink, but looking back I didn’t. I don’t think that’s much of an explanation. It happens of course but seems more of an issue on focus and speech rather than thought. IMO. Interestingly I don’t hear that one as often as an excuse – although clearly it does happen. However when you are dealing with people who are clearly investigating, then I think groupthink loses it’s explanatory power. Groupthink more often happens at organizations where people hire or bring in people with already similar views. In cases where clearly there isn’t hiring going on and people are inquiring then that seems a much less workable situation. So for instance I might differ in content considerably with my friends at BCC on many theological issues. I don’t think you can attribute there being group think. Yet we’re all reasonably well educated and for the most part accept the basic truth claims of the church. Given the differences and clear evidence of inquiry, how does group think offer any explanatory power?

    Regarding Islam and Hinduism, all I can do is ask what the particular arguments are. The appeal to religious diversity isn’t much of an argument ultimately. The question after all isn’t establishing whether it’s true but whether the people are being irrational in their beliefs. I’m completely fine saying many Islamic and Hindu intellectuals are being rational.

    Your point about the so-called September Six misses my point. The fact a BYU professor might be fired for promoting disbelief says nothing about those who do write. Your implication is that people who disbelieve would write to hide their disbelief. But what typically happens is that they just don’t write. The implication you are making is that anyone (say Dan Peterson) can be assumed to be lying in their writing because they might be fired if they wrote things critical of the church. That’s as much nonsense as dismissing what a physicist writes because they’d be fired if they rejected the basic tenets of science.

    As for the BYU-I situation, I’m sure you know that’s more complicated. There’s now abundant evidence of her teaching things in class she said she wasn’t teaching going well beyond what she’s said. So accepting her word that she was only fired for the Facebook post now seems pretty questionable.

  37. Steve S
    July 28, 2017 at 10:34 am

    “However when you are dealing with people who are clearly investigating, then I think groupthink loses it’s explanatory power.” We weren’t talking about why people convert to Mormonism, but why informed educated Mormons, all of which have been deeply socialized into the LDS church and culture, exist and defend Mormonism.

    “So for instance I might differ in content considerably with my friends at BCC on many theological issues.” The degree of this difference is trivial. On core issues related to Mormonism (i.e. the Book of Mormon contains the words of ancients in the Americas) there is practically no disagreement among informed education Mormon believers. Why? Groupthink. You know that you simply could not question something like this in writing without significant social backlash. This explains a big part of why informed educated believers do not question it. Their thoughts are informed by perceived group reaction more than their own personal opinions. Don’t think this is the case? Well, you’re just disingenuous.

  38. Clark
    July 28, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Steve, why do you think people born into Mormonism aren’t inquiring and investigating? That seems an odd premise.

    To your second point it seems circular. If people agree it’s groupthink. If you disagree you’re disingenuous. The problem of course is that this is unfalsifiable. Worst, it implies that the only reason physicists agree is groupthink.

  39. Anonymous
    July 28, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Right, Clark, 8-year-olds are inquiring and investigating to get baptized into Mormonism. Give me a break.

    There is no collective organization called physicists with a leader who tells people what they are supposed to believe and has the power to excommunicate them if they disagree. What is significant about physicists is how much they disagree with each other, not how much they agree. Nor do they appear to arriving at agreements with each other on a range of issues because of an expectation to think a particular way set out by certain authorities of the discipline of physics. This is an indication that they have much more freedom from social constraints in what they say about physics than do believing Mormon intellectuals in what they say about Mormonism, who oddly all seem to be in agreement that the Book of Mormon contains the words of American ancients about Jesus, that Thomas S. Monson receives revelations from god, and a number of other core teachings that are supposedly beyond question. I should mention that groupthink (thought as a product of the perceived expectations of a group) is not the only reason that we have informed educated people defending Mormonism. Confirmation bias is a huge factor too. Practically all informed educated defenders of Mormonism have been deeply socialized for decades into Mormonism. Their tendency is to do everything they can to confirm preexisting biases.

  40. Steve S
    July 29, 2017 at 12:38 am

    “If people agree it’s groupthink” – The original premises of Mormonism were not arrived at through reason, but Joseph Smith’s claim to revelation. According to Joseph Smith, God revealed to him that Jesus appeared to ancient Americans right after his death. He didn’t arrive at that position through reasoning. Those who openly questioned his central claims were considered doubters at best and apostates at worst. Contrast this with Newtonian physics. Newton attempted to put forth some explanations of reality based on observation and reason. He didn’t claim revelation. He didn’t claim that his views on physics were God’s revealed words to him and beyond question. A good number of physicists admire Newton and his contributions even if they have come to disagree his many of his central points. Former believers (never believers are allowed exception) who disagree with Joseph Smith’s central claims to truth about reality as were supposedly revealed to him by God tend to be looked down upon as inferiors by believing Mormon intellectuals. The main reason that believing intellectuals defend Mormonism is because they were raised in the Mormon tradition and defending what they were conditioned to believe over decades by their surrounding environment. They were raised to accept Joseph Smith’s words because he was supposedly a prophet and he was right about revelation. This isn’t rational thinking. Physicists are not arriving at their ideas because of the dictates of tradition or some supposed unquestionable authority.

  41. Other Steve
    July 29, 2017 at 7:44 am

    “Their thoughts are informed by perceived group reaction more than their own personal opinions. Don’t think this is the case?”

    It comes across as if you have a crisis of belief (or disbelief rather) and identity. You don’t seem comfortable in your disbelief of mormonism, to the point it looks like you take somebody’s belief as a personal affront or challenge. I sense a lot of anxiety seeping through in your words. I don’t think someone who is settled in themselves would feel the need to box others’ motives so narrowly. You seem intellectually capable of seeing more possibilities – so why attribute all believing motives to one incriminating simplistic idea?

    When I see that in someone, it tells me more often than not the person is seeking self-justification of some sort.

  42. Clark Goble
    July 29, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Anonymous, it’s not hard to find academics who get too far out of the mainstream facing the equivalent of excommunication which is to be considered untrustworthy. And it does happen. Usually the oversupply of PhDs combined with the difficulty of getting tenure limit this somewhat. Usually those who go off the rails end up either caught up in some conspiracy theory (like whether the jet crash could burn the structures during 9/11) or on fringe science like ESP or (for one Nobel Prize winner) exaggerating the effects of vitamins. How much they are dismissed varies of course. Sometimes they maintain the ability to work in their specialties such as Russell Targ or Linus Pauling. But their reputations never really recovered.

    On key things though physicists agree – on new phenomena and hypothesis of course there’s a lot of disagreement. That’s not the point though. After all apologists disagree with each other a lot to. The question is whether their agreement entails groupthink. That’s the whole argument I’m making — that the appeal to groupthink is weakly argued.

    Steve S, the question is how individuals arrive at their conclusions. To assert that everyone is simply accepting Joseph Smith’s revelations just seems false. Most people try to find out themselves. To argue that the main reason Mormon intellectuals believe is merely their upbringing demands an argument. Instead it just seems a convenient way to cut the issue off. Now if you have evidence that my beliefs and the beliefs of apologists are merely due to being raised in a Mormon environment I’m all ears. I suspect you don’t.

    In which case I suspect it’s merely a case of groupthink among critics.

  43. Steve S
    July 30, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Clark, you suggested earlier that informed educated people defending Mormonism gives the religion more credibility. The fact that nearly all defenders of reputation have been socialized in the religion undercuts that credibility. They cannot claim to be arriving at agreement with the central tenets of Mormonism independently. The fact that they would face significant social backlash if they were to express open disagreement with central tenets further undercuts their credibility.

    On critics and groupthink, the critics have no central authority declaring unquestionable doctrines that are enforced through a complex array of organizational maneuvers. Many of them are former believers and are arriving at their ideas more or less independently (they don’t have parents and friends creating incentives and pressuring them into professing said ideas) and sometimes at social cost. There criticisms are based on strong evidence. They are not socialized into their skepticism of the LDS church. Contrast this with believers (educated informed ones as well) whose beliefs in the central tenets of Mormonism are based on claimed spiritual feelings that it is true. While there may be a bandwagon effect among critics, the groupthink element is lacking due to the near lack of social pressure in enforcing those criticisms. Social pressure is a huge factor in getting Mormons to profess belief. On evidence, we have the patterns in human behavior that provide overwhelming evidence that tradition plays a very strong role in shaping individuals’ beliefs. Being raised in a Mormon environment and having social expectations placed on you to profess belief (even to the extent of oath-taking ceremonies witnessed by friends and family) has forced you to think a great deal about Mormonism (and not HInduism, for example) and work your mind extra hard to come with reasoning to justify those beliefs. I can’t speak for you entirely, but I would think it is reasonable to believe that you have contemplated leaving Mormonism at some point (along with other informed educated believers) but that social factors have made you think twice about that. Physicists were mostly not socialized by parents and family into professing particular beliefs about physics. We have no reason to attribute their ideas to that factor. They also aren’t claiming their ideas based on revelation. Huge difference. You’re making an absurd false equivalence.

    PS, I’m Anonymous as well, I forgot to add my name and email on that comment.

  44. Steve S
    July 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    “so why attribute all believing motives to one incriminating simplistic idea?”

    I’m not, read my exchange in more depth. Groupthink is just one factor among many. Delusion, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, apophenia, etc. are other factors as well. The fact of the matter is that pretty much all informed educated believers in Mormonism will tell you that their beliefs is rooted in what can only be described as an intuitive feeling. In other words, they didn’t arrive at their belief because of what would be accepted as valid evidence in academic and intellectual communities in spite of their occasional insistence that their beliefs are rooted in that type of evidence.

  45. Other Steve
    July 30, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    @Steve S,

    Ok, you’re right, you had previously mentioned some of these other listed items. Instead of getting into nuances of why I felt what I did in my previous comment, rather I’m interested just as an intellectual exercise – if you can conceive of any genuine and positive reason why a person might believe in God / a religion?

    (for simplicity sake, let’s keep it to Christianity or any other major world religions that believe in higher beings or powers, or even an afterlife)

  46. Clark Goble
    July 30, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    “Clark, you suggested earlier that informed educated people defending Mormonism gives the religion more credibility. The fact that nearly all defenders of reputation have been socialized in the religion undercuts that credibility. They cannot claim to be arriving at agreement with the central tenets of Mormonism independently. “

    Repeating it doesn’t make it so. Please provide an argument for this. I recognize it’s what you believe. I suspect you have no compelling reason for the belief. I sure hope this isn’t just a feeling. If it’s not I’m sure you can provide objective evidence explaining why I believe what I believe isn’t what I believe it is.

    “The fact that they would face significant social backlash if they were to express open disagreement with central tenets further undercuts their credibility.”

    Again outside of Utah that not only isn’t true but typically the opposite is true. Where I grew up it was far more costly to be Mormon than not be Mormon. Even in Utah there have been ample times when the costs for remaining were far higher than leaving. I suspect that’s true for many if not most people.

    “The fact of the matter is that pretty much all informed educated believers in Mormonism will tell you that their beliefs is rooted in what can only be described as an intuitive feeling.”

    I can’t say I know anyone who believes due to an “intuitive feeling.” You sure group think and confirmation bias aren’t forcing you to say that?

  47. July 31, 2017 at 8:46 am

    The CES Letter author has now responded to the happiness-seekers blog post.

  48. Steve S
    August 1, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Other Steve, the concept of god has a wide range of definitions. However, most arguments for the existence of god (actually all outside those that define god as synonymous with observable nature) are faith-based. Reasonable people certainly believe in god. Reasonable people also believe in Mormonism. But the arguments for the truthfulness of Mormonism aren’t based on what would widely be recognized as reasonable in the wider academic/intellectual community. If lots non-LDS intellectuals from all walks of life and academic disciplines started accepted Mormon truth claims on their merits, we would have a stronger case for the truth claims being reasonable and rational. But faith is reasoned. It is arrived at through willpower to believe without evidence or on culture-specific evidence (meaning evidence that doesn’t have widespread recognition as valid evidence outside said culture).

  49. Steve S
    August 1, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    “Repeating it doesn’t make it so”

    That’s because you’re in a state of denial. Evidence for this is in the fact that no non-LDS intellectuals believe Mormon truth claims on their merits, in spite of the LDS church’s gigantic missionary and promotional efforts. I have every reason to believe that my point would be readily accepted by most non-LDS intellectuals. So the burden of proof is on you to show that socialization in a religion has no impact on scholarship. Plus, even if I wrote an entire book showing this, knowing you, you would still find a way to weasel out of accepting this through some extreme mental contortionism. That has been our whole exchange on this post. So many of your responses are tangents and non-sequiturs that don’t even address the main point. I have to repeat to keep you on track. The only people who accept your belief in Mormonism as rational are other believing Mormons. That says nothing. Make the case to non-Mormon intellectuals/academics and try to gain traction there. That is the only way you’ll make your case.

  50. Steve S
    August 1, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    “Again outside of Utah that not only isn’t true but typically the opposite is true. Where I grew up it was far more costly to be Mormon than not be Mormon.” We have ample evidence from the thousands and thousands who have been raised in believing families and married in the temple of just how difficult it is to leave Mormonism. For employees of BYU, they stand to lose their jobs on top of damaging their family relationships and friendship networks for leaving. We’re not talking about converts on the fringe, we’re talking about deeply rooted Mormons. The cost of leaving is extremely high for them. Don’t believe me? Just read the countless stories of deeply rooted Mormons who left and how much they lost. Many have been ostracized by believing family and friends and have had their believing spouses divorce them, simply over no longer participating at church. I have every reason to believe that you are fully aware that this is the case and that you are just faking your cluelessness.

    Lastly feeling the spirit = intuitive feeling. Say it is otherwise and by default you have to believe every other religion on the planet to be true. Because virtually every religion is full of members who claim its truthfulness on strong feelings often described as spiritual. You’re just acting childish now, Clark. A sign that you’ve lost the debate. Go back to high school, clown.

  51. Other Steve
    August 1, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    @Steve S
    “as an intellectual exercise – if you can conceive of any genuine and positive reason why a person might believe in God / a religion?”

    So is your answer “no” ? It comes across as if you are trying to avoid answering my question directly. Is that the case?

  52. Clark
    August 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    “Evidence for this is in the fact that no non-LDS intellectuals believe Mormon truth claims on their merits…”

    Not sure what you mean by “merits” or “truth claims.” Lots of truth claims of course are unobjectionable. The ones that require revelation to confirm usually entail non-LDS becoming LDS so there’s kind of an inherent problem with your criteria.

    “I have every reason to believe that my point would be readily accepted by most non-LDS intellectuals.”

    There are reasons? You sure?

    “So the burden of proof is on you to show that socialization in a religion has no impact on scholarship.”

    Why would I have to prove that? I don’t even believe that. Rather my claim is that it’s not determinative.

    “Plus, even if I wrote an entire book showing this, knowing you, you would still find a way to weasel out of accepting this through some extreme mental contortionism.”

    Requesting evidence is mental contortionism?

    “So many of your responses are tangents and non-sequiturs that don’t even address the main point.”

    Requesting evidence for a claim is a tangent or non-sequitor? You’re not helping yourself here.

    “The only people who accept your belief in Mormonism as rational are other believing Mormons. That says nothing.”

    Not at all. I suspect the problem is that you assume that to believe something rationally entails it being true. I’m not sure of course – but if that is what you believe it’d explain a lot of your comments.

    Since I don’t think rationality entails truth I can believe that people can rationally believe Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and atheism. It doesn’t follow that I think them true. You’re hung up on the rationality component because I suspect you don’t really understand epistemologically what that entails. There are lots of of false beliefs people can believe rationally. Indeed the history of discarded scientific theories is filled with such.

    Maybe we should have a discussion over what rationality entails? (Note this is not a tangent nor a non-sequitor but a logical premise to your arguments that we appear to disagree over)

    “We have ample evidence from the thousands and thousands who have been raised in believing families and married in the temple of just how difficult it is to leave Mormonism”

    The fact it is difficult for some does not entail it is difficult for all. You’re making an illegitimate generalization. I can but assure you that if I felt it was false I’d leave and not think twice about it. I recognize you don’t believe that of course – no doubt appealing to such things as groupthink or delusion for which you have no evidence.

    “For employees of BYU, they stand to lose their jobs on top of damaging their family relationships and friendship networks for leaving.”

    But again that says nothing about those who do believe and don’t teach at BYU. Further the argument that those who teach at BYU are deceptive because there are potential costs is just illegitimate. It’s funny to me that you can’t even understand why that is an illegitimate argument.

    “Lastly feeling the spirit = intuitive feeling.”

    I can but say it’s not in my experience. Feeling is a rather minor superficial aspect to the spirit in my experience. Obviously it’s not in yours. Presumably why you aren’t a member. But of course that then raises the question of whether you’re representing the experience correctly.

    “Say it is otherwise and by default you have to believe every other religion on the planet to be true.”

    Again, you’re really not helping yourself here. I’ll be kind and just ask if you have a sound argument for that? (My guess is that you’re again confusing rationality with truth)

  53. August 1, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Steve: If God does not speak to you, that does not mean he does not speak to others. It should rather make you question why he does not speak to you, and not immediately assume others are insane (or stupid, or groupthinked, or socialized, or whatever convenient slur allows you to bypass careful thought.)

    There are non-LDS scholars that find the church’s truth claims compelling? Most of them get baptized at that point though. Most “scholars” don’t look at the church’s claims at all though, because its much easier to assume falsehood than to actually test God the way Moroni directs. Its understandable enough; faith is a difficult muscle to exercise. It really shouldn’t be difficult to understand in principle though.

    Alma 32 directs the planting of the seed (which could be construed as an act of blind belief if you wish, though often is not), but then it specifically directs the experimenter to watch for fruit. In other words, does it work? A physicist does the same thing. “I am testing X theory. I will act as if it is true and see if it works.”

    Most Mormons have found that applying the Mormon principles in theory give the expected results should the church’s claims be true. You only get to the “its all groupthink and socialization” explanations if you deliberately and immediately reject out of hand the idea that God is real.

  54. August 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    As a non-Mormon who is at least willing to listen, I might be in the target audience for apologetics. I think I’m fairly typical when I say that bad apologetics is much worse, in its effect on my opinion of Mormonism, than no apologetics.

    It wouldn’t actually cost you very much, in my book, to back off from defending a few points. Practically everything has a few weak points, or points that aren’t yet fully understood, so admitting a few weak points doesn’t actually put you out of the running. Whatever the alternatives to Mormonism may be, they all have their own weak points of some kind. Moreover, conceding a few weak points boosts your credibility on your other points.

    Conversely, if someone puts up just one bad-looking argument, it undermines any progress they may have made elsewhere. That one bad argument raises doubts about the apologist’s competence—or about their character. Catching someone earnestly advancing a bad argument is like catching them trying to pass a bad check.

    The most self-damaging apologetics is the kind that fails to realize how badly it comes across to its audience. It is one thing to disagree on a point. If someone else accepts an argument that seems appalling to me, then as long as they can still recognize that their argument may look much worse to me, I can still consider that they’re a reasonable and decent person whose life has simply given them a viewpoint that is different from mine. If someone seriously expects me to be impressed by an appalling argument, though, then that’s quite another thing. The person is evidently imagining that their appalling viewpoint is shared by everyone. So they are living in a whole different world from the one I recognize as real, and I can’t take anything they say at face value.

    For me, and I think for most modern non-Mormons, the example of polygamy as an indefensible weak spot is a good one. Every Mormon defense of polygamy that I have heard has indeed done nothing but dig the hole deeper.

  55. Clark Goble
    August 11, 2017 at 11:02 am

    I think that’s right James, so many apologists (and I’ve fallen into this trap myself at times) are focused on winning the argument on their terms against the critic that they completely lose sight of the real audience. You can be “right” yet alienate your actual audience.

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