Mormonism and apologetics

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.

Questions

Many people are not familiar with "apologetics," and raise a variety of questions. These include:

  • Why are we "apologizing" for our doctrine?
  • What is apologetics?
  • Why do apologetics?
  • Is it appropriate for a Church member to be involved in apologetics?
  • Since you can't "prove" religion, is apologetics a waste of time?
  • Are there risks in doing apologetics?
  • Do LDS apologists tell members how "scientists continue to get it wrong?"
  • Are LDS apologists isolated from other members because of differences in their beliefs?
  • Does the Church employ or pay LDS apologists?
  • Does the Church avoid mentioning the work of LDS apologists in any public forum sponsored by the Church?
  • Does the Church avoid endorsing any LDS apologetic scholarship?

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answers

You can never argue a person into faith; Christian theology and apologetics exist in order to make sense of the world for the believer, but they do not in themselves create that belief
Gerald Bray, "Man's Righteousness and God's Salvation," Evangel, the British Evangelical Review 10. 2 (1992): 6.
∗       ∗       ∗

What is apologetics?

The word "apologetic" is not commonly used in the LDS community and may be unfamiliar to many people. The word literally means "in defense of the faith." It is not talking about apologizing to anyone or being sorry for something. (From the FAIR FAQ.) The word comes from the Greek "apologia" and is used four times in the Greek New Testament, including 1 Peter 3:15.

Why do apologetics?

Apologists participate for a variety of reasons. They may:

  • have an interest in Church history and doctrine
  • have a background in the study of ancient languages or other religions which give a useful perspective on the restored gospel
  • experience frustration with anti-Mormon authors who ignore the totality of LDS doctrine and thought
  • wish to protect others from poorly-reasoned criticisms, thus preventing others from enduring the suffering which anti-Mormon attacks have caused in the apologist's own life, or the lives of friends or family
  • want to enhance their own knowledge of Church doctrine or history
  • need information to improve their ability to share the gospel with others who have sincere questions or misunderstandings
  • enjoy the company of other like-minded Church members, who are interested in the same sorts of issues
  • serve in Church leadership positions which require them to address questions

Is it appropriate for a Church member to be involved in apologetics?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that since enemies have invoked 'science' or 'reason' to attack faith, it may now be necessary that someone respond in the same vein:

To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.[1]

Indeed, the great risk which apologetics seeks to counter is that those unfamiliar with anti-Mormon arguments will assume that there are no good answers to the critics. Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned of the consequences of such a situation:

Let us be articulate for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions.[2]

Since you can't "prove" religion, is apologetics a waste of time?

Dallin H. Oaks spoke to this concern:

The lack of decisive scientific proofs of scriptural truths does not preclude gospel defenders from counterarguments of that nature. When opponents attack the Church or its doctrines with so-called proofs, loyal defenders will counter with material of a comparable nature to defend.[3]

And, Neal A. Maxwell noted that God would provide fascinating additions to our understanding:

There will be a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along…[I] do not expect incontrovertible proof to come in this way…, but neither will the Church be outdone by hostile or pseudo-scholars.[4]

Austen Farrar said, of C.S. Lewis:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.[5]

Apologetics does not aim to "create belief"—it aims only to dispense with the poor reasons given by critics for disbelief. As Elder Maxwell put it, the critics ought not to be permitted "uncontested slam-dunks."[6]

Are there risks in doing apologetics?

Impatience

Apologists often confront the same anti-Mormon arguments again, and again, and again!

It can be frustrating to see a new crop of anti-Mormon books, films, pamphlets, and websites trot out the same tired claims, without even attempting to address the LDS responses. Apologists must remain patient, and not become short or irritable with those who have sincere questions just because they have 'heard it all before.'

Over-reacting

Cautioned Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

The ability to create a climate around us in which people, as in the case of the man who approached Jesus, feel free enough to say the equivalent of "Lord, help Thou my unbelief," is a critical skill. If we can deal with doubt effectively in its nascent stages, we can assist people by a warmth and love which frees them to share the worries that they may have, and increase the probability of dissolving their doubt. But, if we over-react to dissent or to doubt, we are apt, rather than inculcating confidence in those we serve, to exhibit what, in the eyes of the rebel, may seem to be a flaw in our inner confidence in what we say.
We need to relax to be effective in the process of helping people who are building testimonies. Over-reacting and pressing the panic button when doubt first makes its appearance can render us ineffective. This is one of the reasons why parents are often in a temporarily poorer tactical position to deal effectively with a rebellious son or daughter—the anxiety is too real to relax. In these circumstances, bishops, teachers, and friends can be helpful—not because they are clinically detached, for their love and concern should be honestly communicated—but rather because third parties sometimes can listen a little longer without reacting, can prescribe with a clear-headed assessment, and most of all, can be a fresh voice which conveys care and concern, a voice which has risen above similar challenges.[7]

Pride

An apologist can decide (wrongly) that the issues which excite and concern him must excite everyone. There are many people for whom apologetic issues are of no importance. This implies no defect in them or in those who are concerned about a given issue.

C.S. Lewis remarked:

The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course, it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty. As the author of the Theologia Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge-our knowing-more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in a scholar's life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.[8]

And, any field in which one becomes something of an expert is ripe for pride. As Alma cautioned his missionary sons, "See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength." Alma 38:11 Such strength can be apologetic or mental as much as physical.

Spiritual Neglect

Apologetics does not substitute for faith, prayer, scripture study, Christ-like service, and spiritual renewal. Apologists must remember that their main task is to encourage others to seek a personal witness for themselves; the 'rational' part of apologetics is really a prelude to the important work of conversion. At best, apologetics 'gets someone's attention,' and may help them give a novel or strange idea 'the benefit of the doubt' sufficient to plant the seed of faith (Alma 32).

LDS apologists should never fall into the trap of assuming that logical argument can create belief, or that the 'case' for the gospel of Christ can be made rationally irresistible.

This applies to those for whom we write, but it applies to with even greater force to ourselves.

C.S. Lewis gave an important caution from his own work in Christian apologetics:

I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one's own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another's continual help—oremus pro invincem [Let us pray for each other].[9]

Do LDS apologists tell members how "scientists continue to get it wrong?"

Critics often portray apologists and mindless automatons who are unable to think rationally in their attempt to "defend the faith" at all costs. It is assumed by secular critics that Mormonism and science are mutually exclusive. It is not the job of the apologist to discount what science tells us. Many apologists have advanced degrees in many areas of science. These individuals have found that science and belief are compatible rather than being mutually exclusive.

It is true, however, that apologetic arguments may evolve as science provides us with new answers about the world that we live in. Science is continually changing, and we welcome the new knowledge that it brings to us. When new discoveries are made, apologists will attempt to determine this new information fits in with belief. It is possible to be an apologist while still understanding that there are many things that science will continue to teach us.

One should exercise caution, however, before immediately incorporating a new discovery into an apologetic argument. An example of this occurred with forged documents such as the "Salamander Letter" produced by Mark Hofmann. When these documents were obtained by the church and made publicly available, apologists and critics alike immediately began creating material to explain them. When it was discovered that these documents were forgeries, it became necessary to provide disclaimers on some apologetic material that was written during this period of time. Unfortunately, critics do not issue such disclaimers, and works such as D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View and Grant Palmer's An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, which were heavily influenced by the Hofmann forgeries, continue to be cited as references in modern critical works. In this case, negative apologetics based upon faulty information continues to have ongoing detrimental effects.

Are LDS apologists isolated from other members because of differences in their beliefs?

LDS apologists do not exist in some special "caste" that sets them apart from the general "non-apologist" church population. This idea has even been characterized as a difference between "Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons"[10]. Many LDS apologists either have been, or currently are, elders quorum presidents, high priest group leaders, bishops, stake presidents, and even general authorities. Being in positions of leadership such as these hardly isolates the apologist from the general Church membership. If anything, this means that the apologist is in an even better position to assist members when they do seek out answers to difficult questions. The idea that LDS apologists are somehow isolated in their own little self-constructed world of beliefs is an idea that the critics would like to promote, but which is very far from the truth.

Does the Church employ or pay LDS apologists?

There are no paid positions in LDS apologetics. Those who wish to achieve a substantial level of income would be well advised to avoid LDS apologetics entirely, as it can consume substantial amounts of a person's "off-time." Most LDS apologists perform volunteer work to defend the faith while holding down their normal "day job."

Some individuals who practice LDS apologetics happen to be employed by institutions sponsored by the Church: The primary institution being Brigham Young University. In this situation, their "day job" involves researching or teaching subjects which may or may not relate to subjects of interest to apologetics...which ought not to surprise anyone at all. Thus, critics attempt to argue that some LDS apologists, particularly BYU professors, are "paid" for their apologetic efforts. Critics congratulate themselves for achieving a firm understanding of the obvious: Individuals who happen to have a "day job" with a Church sponsored institution receive their paycheck from that same institution. Having a "day job" with a Church sponsored institution does not preclude one from practicing apologetics.

Does the Church avoid mentioning the work of LDS apologists in any public forum sponsored by the Church?

No. For example, the work of pioneer apologist Hugh Nibley has been repeatedly cited even in general conference.[11]

The Church's official website also links to various apologetic individuals and groups. For example, their section on DNA and the Book of Mormon refers to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, the FARMS Review, and work by Dr. Daniel Peterson, Dr. John Butler, and Dr. Jeff Lindsay.[12] FAIR's response to an anti-Mormon DVD was also given prominent attention at lds.org.[13]

Does the Church avoid endorsing any LDS apologetic scholarship?

The Church and its leaders are rightly cautious about officially endorsing any material that has not been approved by the correlation process of the Church. For most secular undertakings—such as those involving science and history—the Church gives no official endorsement nor takes any official position.

Apologists prefer it this way. For example, FAIR can and does make mistakes. If they are brought to our attention, we strive to correct them. But, the Church cannot be held responsible for any errors that we, as private members, might make. The Church and its leaders focus on preaching the gospel of Christ and administering the saving ordinances. Interested private members may seek to explain and defend their faith with the best tools at their disposal, but the truth of that faith does not depend on the soundness of their arguments.

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Notes

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  1. [note]  C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 27-28; cited by James S. Jardine, “Consecration and Learning,” in On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 77.
  2. [note]  Neal A. Maxwell, "'All Hell Is Moved," in 1977 Devotional Speeches of the Year (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 179.
  3. [note]  Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 92.
  4. [note]  Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 49.
  5. [note]  Cited by Neal A. Maxwell, "Discipleship and Scholarship," Brigham Young University Studies 32 no. 3 (1992), 5. PDF link
  6. [note]  Neal A. Maxwell, cited in Gilbert W. Scharffs, "Some people say it is best to leave alone materials that claim to 'expose' the Church and its teachings. What counsel has been given on this? How do we respond when a friend comes to us with questions found in such materials?," Ensign (January 1995), 60 (scroll half-way down). off-site
  7. [note]  Neal A Maxwell, A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 62.
  8. [note]  C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 27-28; cited by James S. Jardine, “Consecration and Learning,” in On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 77.
  9. [note]  C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 103.
  10. [note] The terms were originated by Jason Gallentine, who identifies himself as "Dr. Shades" on a critical discussion board.
  11. [note]  See, for example: Gordon B. Hinckley, "Come and Partake," Ensign (May 1986), 46. off-site; D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Ensign (November 2000), 9–11. off-site; Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," Ensign (May 1974), 93. off-site. Other references to Nibley can be found by searching the on-line database.
  12. [note]  "DNA and the Book of Mormon," lds.org (16 February 2006). off-site.
  13. [note]  "Response to DVD," lds.org (29 March 2007). off-site. The FAIR response is at the top of the column on the left.

Further reading

FairMormon Answers articles

FairMormon web site

Videos

LDS Apologetics 101, Michael Ash and Kevin Barney, 2003 FAIR Conference

External links

  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction—The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to," FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): ix–lxiv. off-site wiki
  • Gilbert W. Scharffs, "Some people say it is best to leave alone materials that claim to 'expose' the Church and its teachings. What counsel has been given on this? How do we respond when a friend comes to us with questions found in such materials?," Ensign (January 1995), 60 (scroll half-way down). off-site

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