The New Anti-Apologetic

Several here belong to FAIR or have at least a passing interest in LDS apologetics. One thing I, and many others, have noted of late, is the change in strategy for both naturalistic critics and evangelical critics of the church. Whereas once they simply attacked our beliefs they now take a slightly different approach. They first go the pains to discount any apologetic or sophisticated view of scriptures or our theology. Such accounts, according to these people, don’t represent real Mormonism.

It is an odd thing to see. While I think it has been going on a long time, I think that the recent controversy about DNA and the Book of Mormon has really accentuated the issue. The only way the DNA studies are a problem is if one adopts a fairly naive “Nephites lived across both North and South America” view. Now certainly that’s a common view. I personally think it hard to reconcile to the Book of Mormon. But our critics are right that the beliefs of more well read Mormons tends to be somewhat different from people who’ve not really investigated the issues. However is it fair to simply discount the beliefs of apologists and other Mormons?

You see this in such questionable taxonomies like “Chapel Mormons” vs. “Internet Mormons.” The whole point is really to be able to just discount any nuanced or sophisticated approach to scripture so that critics can go back to attacking Mormonism the way they used to. In a way it is quite lazy. (IMO) After all does it really take that much work for the critic to engage with the ideas of those who think about theology and history? Further, it certainly isn’t the case that all the arguments and positions of apologists are without problems, even within their stated frame work. So why this attempt to redefine the debate?

I should add that if we take Mormonism seriously, then what we are speaking about must be something real. And as something real it must exceed and often contradict our ideas about it. No one criticizes a scientist because some of their hypothesis about reality turn out to be somewhat flawed. Neither do we expect the scientist to fully cast aside everything they believe. Rather they look for the error, make some modifications and test those. So why is Mormon theology and history treated so differently by some? It’s hard to father.

31 thoughts on “The New Anti-Apologetic

  1. ” should add that if we take Mormonism seriously, then what we are speaking about must be something real. And as something real it must exceed and often contradict our ideas about it.”

    Amen. And amen.

  2. I think you bring up a valid point. I don’t sympathize with anti-Mormon writers (an appellation I define quite differently from Lou Midgley, who recently showed up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupted George Smith having fondue with the Tanners), but I think it deserves to be said that Mormonism as described by apologists can be a bit of a moving target.

    Your example of Book of Mormon DNA is an interesting one, because the limited geography theory has been around for a very long time and had become an uncontroversial (if not somewhat mainstream) point of view before DNA entered the scene. Just the same, one motivation (as I understand it) behind creating the limited geography theory was to explain the discovery that American Indians aren’t nearly homogenous enough to have come from one family 2,600 years ago. Obviously, localizing the progeny of that family answers such concerns about homogeneity. Obviously, it also answers concerns based on DNA evidence.

    Also, the development of Book of Abraham apologetics is instructive. Answers to Egyptologists who criticized the facsimiles claimed that since we don’t have the papyri, we cannot know. Once parts of the papyri were discovered, the drive changed to looking for internal evidence that the Book of Abraham is ancient and arguing that the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar was not prepared by Joseph.

    It seems fairly certain that we’ll never recover Joseph’s plates, unless they end up being tin plates that he created so that people people could feel them through a sack (Dan Vogel alleges). But what if we discovered plates answering to Joseph’s (and the witness’s) descriptions and they contained the characters from the ‘Caracters’ manuscript. Suppose also that the plates could be explained naturalistically, and they could be shown not to contain the Book of Mormon. The focus of apologetics would likely turn to internal evidence that the Book of Mormon is ancient and arguments that the discovered plates were never the source of the Book of Mormon. This is the pretty much the same trajectory taken by Book of Abraham apologetics.

    One can do away with this “moving target” problem right out of the shoot by focussing on the orthodox versions of the stories.

  3. Lou Midgley, who recently showed up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupted George Smith having fondue with the Tanners

    As soon as I read that, I said “that’s Arturo’s comment.” It’s almost as predicatable as Steve’s POACHER-script.

    What I have found most interesting in my wanderings among ZLMB, the FAIR boards, etc. is how many critics fall into a near ultra-fundamentalist balck/white mindset in defining prophetic authority. Many apologetic issues, at the base, concern (unrealistic) expectations of prophetic authority.

  4. I paruose (sp?) FAIR every once in awhile and check out apologetics, but they never seem very satisfactory. I don’t think very many people are converted through apologetics, so I see them more as a means of discovery and learning, than of convincing.

    For instance, this is how I’ve come to understand several things Brigham young has said (IE about negros, blood atonement, Adam god etc.) Someone asked me a question about it after reading anti, I went to FAIR and read anything they had on there and nine times out of ten wasn’t satisfied. Because of that, I would go read the original sources and every single time I have been able to understand what he meant, find an answer sufficient for myself, and been satisfied.

    I think some of the arguments in LDS apologetics are very poor. The whole “He didn’t really mean that” concept is too often used. Instead apologists should explain what he meant by what he said.

  5. Ben Spackman: As soon as I read ["Lou Midgley... recently showed up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupted George Smith having fondue with the Tanners"], I said “that’s Arturo’s comment.” It’s almost as predicatable as Steve’s POACHER-script.

    This is actually something that Greg Call jokingly said to poke a little fun at the Sunstone crowd in the Third Best Times and Seasons Thread Ever. (Which, if it hadn’t died such a tragically young death, may have beaten out the Second Best Times and Seasons Thread Ever or even the Best Times and Seasons Thread Ever.) I thought Greg’s comment was pretty funny, and I’ve lost no opportunity to repeat it as part of my own contribution to the genre of synthetic humor.

  6. recently showed up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupted George Smith having fondue with the Tanners

    [empahsis added]

    My first thought was “again?!”

    How often and how many times have the Tanners sat down with George only to be interrupted.

  7. Aaron L. M. Goodwin (#4): I don’t think very many people are converted through apologetics, so I see them more as a means of discovery and learning, than of convincing.

    Few apologists would claim that the purpose of apologetics is to convert unbelievers. Instead, it exists so as to give troubled believers a reason to remain believers.

    I think some of the arguments in LDS apologetics are very poor. The whole “He didn’t really mean that” concept is too often used. Instead apologists should explain what he meant by what he said.

    I’d be interested in specific complains you have, especially about FAIR’s materials. The trouble with some topics — especially Adam-God — is that we know what Brigham said, we just don’t know what he meant. He never did lay out a complete theory; all we have are bits and pieces of ideas.

    Another problem is that the Church doesn’t have paid, official apologists (despite what our critics like to claim!), and so the task is left to amateur hobbyists. Some of these people have more experience and information than others. You’re most likely to see poor arguments (“Brigham only taught Adam-God once!”) among the newbies.

  8. Clark: Although I agree with you that the critics should engage Mormon scholarship more seriously, I think you are a little too dismissive of their position. For example, you correctly acknowledge that the commonly held view about Book of Mormon geography is that the Nephites and Lamanites covered North and South America. This commonly held interpretation was formed for a reason. It was the result of hundreds of thousands of people reading the book and coming to the conclusion that this is what it taught. This interpretation was confirmed by leaders who were sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. The LGT or variants thereof have even been expressly repudiated by some of those same leaders. It seemed like the natural reading of the text, supported by statements from leaders until a few pointed out that this view made no sense. However, the reason it makes no sense is because of what we now know about the history of these two continents. (I am not referring just to the DNA studies here, but to other evidences that convince us that Lehi did not arrive on an empty continent and that all native Americans are his descendants). It was this evidence that gave rise to the LGT. Left only to the text and their leaders, Mormons had, and continue to have, views that cannot be reconciled to the evidence. So it is a fair question for the critics to ask: “What is really going on here? Are the apologists simply straining to reinterpret Mormon teachings to fit the evidence we now have and why should we accept their interpretations of their scriptures as authoritative over the interpretations of their own leaders? Which Mormon teachings should we interact with?” And is it really fair to differentiate between the apologists who have thought more seriously about this issue, and thus subscribe to the LGT, and the uneducated masses who have not seriously studied the issue. Was Joseph Fielding Smith not a serious student of the Book of Mormon? Yet he, with the mantle of apostolic authority and after years of study did not accept the LGT, and he was not the exception to the rule. Many of the simplistic members you describe may not have the formal training of the apologists, but they are serious students of the scriptures and their interpretation of Mormon teachings should not be dismissed as irrelevant to the real debate which is being carried on in the ivory towers of the apologists and their critics.

  9. Good point, gary. I’d also like to point out that every apologetic explanation that I know of regarding the restoration scriptures beats a hasty retreat from empirically testable claims. For example, one of the main things going for the limited geography theory is that it is substantially less liable to testing, because it transforms the search for the Nephites into the pursuit of a needle in a haystack. Nor is one making strong empirical claims when he argues that there is internal, textual evidence for Book of Abraham authenticity and talking about “near misses” in the facsimile interpretations.

    One can hardly blame critics of Mormonism for preferring to tackle the more testable claims over the less testable claims, especially when they are the majority point of view and have some degree of leadership endorsement.

  10. Gary, I think I have to disagree. For one, the fact many read a text doesn’t imply they read it carefully in a historic sense. Thus all the egregious ideas people come up with on their own from reading the Bible. The problem is that we read texts in light of our own culture, as if it was one of us writing it. If there is one error in reading scriptures, that’s it. It’s one thing to liken scriptures to ourselves. It’s quite an other to assume they were written from within our culture.

    As to GAs espousing the one view, I think one thing apologetics has done is shown that the more narrow view isn’t as unique and recent as some critics suggest. For instance here’s one comment from B. H. Roberts someone mentioned yesterday. (Stealing from a post by McKay Jones over at FAIR)

    Moreover, there is the possibility that other peoples may have inhabited parts of the great continents of America, contemporaneously with the peoples spoken of by the Book of Mormon, though candor compels me to say that nothing to that effect appears in the Book of Mormon. A number of our Book of Mormon students, however, are inclined to believe that Book of Mormon peoples were restricted to much narrower limits in their habitat on the American continents, than have generally been allowed; and that they were not in South America at all. (B. H. Roberts, Letter to William E. Riter, February 6, 1922. Studies of the Book of Mormon, pp. 53-54)

  11. Gary: The way you describe the origin of the LGT (as it seems to me that you do) as some sort of desperate and conscious attempt to salvage anything out of the Book of Mormon (perhaps I exaggerate your position?) I have never gotten that impression from reading the writings of the members who put forth the LGT. Rather, it always seems to be driven by a close reading of the Book of Mormon. To insinuate that the LGT came forth as an emotional reaction to the difficulties of the traditional HGT as opposed to a reevalution of the data (ie. what the BoM itself says) is to engage in mind-reading. I believe that the evidence that gave rise to the LGT was close reading of the text.

    Also, if I do not misunderstand you, you are either arguing for de facto infallibility, or at least that because members assumed infallibility, the traditional model should be accepted as authoritative. Or rather, that we shouldn’t be too critical of critics who deal with traditional assumptions instead of actual data, yes?

    The LGT or variants thereof have even been expressly repudiated by some of those same leaders.

    And apparently embraced by other leaders, such as Elder Oaks. The theory found enough acceptance that it was allowed to be published in the Ensign. I’m sure you’re aware of this. My point is, however, that without revelation, without an official statement, there is no official position.

    Members who simply take leaders at their word on this topic are not doing what they have been counseled to do by these same leaders. Note, for example, the words of Elder Hugh B. Brown.

    while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one’s logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within

  12. Aaron: I can tell you from first-hand experience that FAIR’s apologetics are not aimed at missionary work or converting non-members. Rather, they are meant to introduce members to difficult issues and provide context, further information, or ways that other members have dealt with the same issues.

  13. AT: “This is actually something that Greg Call jokingly said to poke a little fun at the Sunstone crowd in the Third Best Times and Seasons Thread Ever…I thought Greg’s comment was pretty funny, and I’ve lost no opportunity to repeat it as part of my own contribution to the genre of synthetic humor.”

    I was trying to poke fun at the FARMS crowd too. Anyway, I’m glad that something I’ve written in the bloggernacle has had resonance with somebody.

  14. Clark: I don’t disagree at all when you argue that the scriptures must be read carefully in a historic sense. I am with you 100% and agree that the failure to do so is a huge problem. I also acknowledge that the LGT is not an entirely recent innovation. However, I do disagree that it has its foundation in a close reading of the text. It has become apparent to informed people that the assumption that Lehi arrived to an empty continent was simply untenable. Some people figured that out decades ago, but not many. In any event, this conclusion had almost nothing to do with the text and everything to do with external evidence which contradicted the way virtually all Mormons understood the text. I grant that virtually all Mormons, including their leaders may well have been wrong in their interpretation, but it is at least a fair point for the critics to point out that they in fact are or have been attacking by far the dominant interpretation of the text.

    I think it is also worth pointing out that there is a big difference between what I think is the less developed LGT (ie. that there were other inhabitants of the Americas), and the more developed theory we see today which suggests that not only were there other inhabitants, but the Nephites and Lamanites effectively assimilated into one or more of those societies within a few years after their arrival here. I don’t think there is much evidence that this more developed theory existed in any meaningful sense until the recent apologetic movement, although I could be wrong because I have not really looked into this in detail.

    Ben: You do exaggerate my position, but that is not your fault. My own position is still in flux, so I am playing the devil’s advocate and advancing the arguments of the critics, and not necessarily my own. I gave up the infallibility position a long time ago, because I felt like my head would explode if I continued to believe the way I had been raised and the way in which many Mormons still today are being taught.

    I am not really advancing a position on the validity or longevity of the LGT. However, as mentioned above, I do think that the critics have a legitimate point. I interpreted Clark as suggesting that the members and leaders such as Pres. Smith who do not subscribe to the LGT are simplistic and are not careful students of the scriptures. I don’t think that is always true. The fact is that of the hundreds of thousands of members who have studied the text at home, at seminary, at institute and at church, very few ever concluded that the text taught the LGT. That should give pause to those who believe that the LGT is there for all to see in the text. It is not the text that has pushed us to the LGT. It is the external evidence that the common interpretation of the text is indefensible that has resulted in the promulgation of the LGT. This does not disprove the LGT by any means. However, it is reasonable for the critics to respond to the interpretation that has historically been the dominant interpretation within the church and probably remains so to this day, although that does appear to changing rapidly.

  15. Greg Call: I was trying to poke fun at the FARMS crowd too. Anyway, I’m glad that something I’ve written in the bloggernacle has had resonance with somebody.

    Come now Greg, your success criteria are both too strong and too weak at the same time.

    Your criteria are too strong, because it’s so very hard to say things that resonate with others. I, on the other hand, am darned pleased just because nobody has left the church on my account or taken a hit out on me. Since the vast majority of my comments get ignored or edited, I view my sojourn here in the bloggernacle as a runaway success!

    Nevertheless, I fear that your criteria are too low insofar as you’re willing to accept resonance with me (of all people) as a circumstance that satisfies your success condition. Aim a little higher next time, Greg.

  16. Oh great Arturo… Something you once said about studying Church History merely being a hobby resonated with me. So if you claim to be unworthy as a resonatee (my new word of the day), what does that say about me who found resonance with one of your comments?

    Gary is making some interesting points about tehe LGT. Of course they only sting if we make some important assumptions. One of those is that God cares enough to correct inaccurate geography assumtions in his apostles and prophets. I’m not convinced God does care if lots of the brethren have had their BoM geographic assumptions wrong, though. They have had a lot of other scientific assumptions wrong too, but God hasn’t interevened there either.

    So what if a couple of modern prophets are a bit backwards on a few non-spiritual subjects? I mostly need to know that my leaders talk to God about the things that help us move toward exaltation and that God talks back to them and gives them guidance in those things. Since God talks back to me on those things I have no problem believing he talks to them as well. So if we get some scientific rube in leadership that shares an opinion that is the equivalent of “Men will never walk on the moon” again in the future I won’t be bothered. I only need my spiritual leaders to have direct revelation about the things related to my spiritual welfare and progress.

  17. As Goeff mentions, I think Gary’s comments hold water only if we buy into what are for me some fairly questionable assumptions. In a church of continuing revelation should we really hold past views to the level Gary does? Especially when, from what I can see, most modern GAs seem to reject the older view and the older view appears to arise from questionable reading?

    On the other hand I can see that critics might feel it problematic to attack a moving target. However I think this is more trying to fit old wine into new bottles. The way LDS think about theology simply doesn’t fit the way, I think, dogma works in Protestantism and Catholicism. We simply do have doctrine that is far more of a moving target. And that’s because we take seriously the idea that we see through a class darkly. That is, we have but a pale reflection of the truth. So I think that entails a healthy fallibilism.

    Where I think some critics go wrong is in confusing our views of authority with say Protestant views of dogma. There is a significant difference. I can think my Bishop is wrong, but feel obliged in most cases to do what he says. But the authority is more “political” rather than “epistemological.” To avoid the fancy words, all that means is the Bishop can tell us what to do. He can’t really tell us what is, in a clear and unambiguous fashion.

  18. Geoff Johnston: Something you once said about studying Church History merely being a hobby resonated with me. So if you claim to be unworthy as a resonatee (my new word of the day), what does that say about me who found resonance with one of your comments?

    I’m genuinely flattered, Geoff. I work hard to persistently rail against all forms of pretension, because it’s really the only way I can offer an objective defense of my otherwise simplistic outlook. It’s nice to know that at least once I’ve proven to be more than simply divisive–especially since I’d set my sights so low already. Nevertheless, you may find that your admission here leads others in the bloggernacle to fear for your mental health. Rosalynde, for example, once professed to being frightened or disturbed just because once or twice she’s tended to think along the same lines as me.

    And as far as the limited geography theory, I don’t think that what Gary said is inconsistent with what I’ve said. I’m basically in agreement with him, and it seems to me that none of the arguments here have impacted his core point.

  19. Gary, taking up “Arturo’s” comment, I reread your last point. It seems to me it rests upon a distinction between text and context that I diagree with. Certainly in one sense no LGT is purely from the text. (Although issue of distances within the text is surely compelling) We have to line the text up with what we know of the world. But we do that with any text.

    If I read a book that mentions apple trees, I clearly use that external knowledge to inform my knowledge of the book. All that I think people have done with the Book of Mormon is take what we know of the real world and used that to inform how we read the text. When we do that we quickly find that the simplistic readings are problematic. However this isn’t an issue of apologetics. (Although I think our appreciation of scripture owes a thank to critics who at minimum make us read our scriptures more carefully)

    Put more simply, it seems there is a hermeneutic circle in reading any text. Often we transverse the circle dozens of times before stabilizing on a reading. If this wasn’t done by members, it is, I think, because we as Mormons simply didn’t read our scriptures very well. Indeed I think a case could be made that we didn’t read the Book of Mormon much at all until Pres. Benson roundly condemned us all.

    So, yes, I think I am saying that those who don’t follow the LGT are being simplistic in their readings. That’s not the issue of whether the LGT is “there for all to see.” I think the point of the hermeneutic circle is that “there for all to see” takes a certain care and bringing in external notions that far too few were willing to do.

  20. Clark: Let me try to explain my point this way. I took your post to be critical of the critics for attacking the conventional interpretation of the Book of Mormon rather than the “more nuanced” and “sophisticated” LGT. I think our response to those critics should be as follows: “Yes, you are correct. We agree with you. The conventional understanding that the Book of Mormon describes a group of Israelites who settled the Americas, and whose descendants filled North and South America, and who constitute the dominant ancestors of all of the natives living here when the Europeans arrived is incorrect. That belief is contradicted by a massive amount of evidence and your criticisms are therefore well founded. However, that belief, although it is held by many Mormons today, was based on an incorrect understanding of the Book of Mormon. Let me explain why that is the case.”

    With this approach, we don’t ridicule the critics for criticizing what we ourselves have taught for many years. I think they have every right to criticize the teachings that have been almost universally taught in every Sunday School class for 150 years. Instead, we acknowledge that they are correct to criticize that belief, and then move the discussion on to the next issue, which is “what does the Book of Mormon actually teach?”

    When we get to the next issue, we then have to address two issues. The first is how our prophets and apostles could be so wrong about this issue. It is fine for us to say that we don’t believe that our leaders are infallible, and that this is not an issue since our doctrine does not require that we hold them to a higher standard than anybody else. Nevertheless, we as a church send out mixed messages on this very issue. It is not ridiculous for a non-member to vigorously question our retreat to the fallibility defense when part of our sales pitch to the world is that we are guided by inspired leaders and are not tossed about by every wind of doctrine. I am not saying that our reliance on this argument is without merit. I am saying that I don’t find their skepticism to be unreasonable. As a faithful member, it is still not clear to me how can reconcile our apparently conflicting teachings on this very point, so I think I can forgive them their skepticism.

    Finally, even if they accept the basic point that our leaders can indeed be wrong on these kinds of issues without destroying the entire foundation of the church, I think it is reasonable for them to question why, if the text says what our modern apologists now say it does, virtually nobody figured that out until the external evidence against the conventional interpretation became so massive that this interpretation could no longer be sustained. That so many read the text that way for so long is not dispositive of the issue, but it should give pause to those who believe that they have discovered a meaning that was not apparent to students and inspired leaders for so long. I still struggle to see the evidence that the apologists now believe supports their argument that the Lehites assimilated into existing native society within a few years after their arrival. Regardless of the merits of the argument however, I think it is at least a relevant consideration that very few readers during the first 150 years after the printing of the Book of Mormon interpreted the text in the way the apologists now tell us we should interpret it. I repeat, that fact does not mean that the apologists are wrong. However, I think your position is that the critics are being unreasonable to raise this issue. That is where I disagree with you–I don’t blame them for raising it because I don’t think it is an unreasonable point to make in a debate such as this one.

  21. virtually nobody figured that out until the external evidence against the conventional interpretation became so massive that this interpretation could no longer be sustained.

    Could you suggest some readings that support this? This is my main point of disagreement with you.

  22. Ben: I base that conclusion on my own experience within the church. I am aware of a few articles written 30 or more years ago suggesting that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Lehi arrived to a virtually empty continent and that perhaps not all native americans are his his descendants. However I am not aware of that being taught through any church channels, and the dominant view by far was not that theory. I am aware of nobody who taught the more developed LGT that we see today, suggesting that his party actually assimilated into other preexisting societies at a very early stage. Maybe I grew ignorant of many people who were teaching the LGT, but I don’t think so. I think the question is better put to you–do you have evidence that I am wrong? Remember, I am not suggesting that nobody ever believed or taught the sophisticated LGT. I am suggesting that there were very few, and as a percentage of those who had read and studied the Book of Mormon, those numbers are negligible.

  23. Ben: I thought one more clarification might be in order. I am not trying to argue that the LGT is nothing more than a lame attempt to respond to the external evidence that the hemispheric theory is untenable. I am arguing that our critics are not attacking a straw man when they criticize the hemispheric theory since that theory did, and probably still does represent the belief that the vast majority of Mormons hold and teach about the Book of Mormon. When we offer an alternative interpretation of the Book of Mormon which is more consistent with the external evidence we should not be too indignant when we are met with skepticism by those same critics. It is us who have created a new target after the shots fired at the old target hit the mark. That does not make us wrong and them right. But I don’t think they are unreasonable to hold our feet to the fire to this issue. If we and our leaders were so dead wrong on this issue for so many years, we deserve some of the scorn heaped upon us.

  24. Gary, the problem with critics attacking naive readings rather than more careful readings by LDS scholars is that it is attacking a strawman. Their attack is basically that the LDS church is false because people have naive beliefs. That’s kind of a weak argument, to say the least. To make an equivalent example, it’s on par with those who criticize science because science reporting by the popular media gets so many things wrong.

    To me for any sophisticated and honest critic to try and brush aside careful readings of the Book of Mormon, attack naive readings, and then say they’ve raised problems for the Book of Mormon is dishonest and disingenious.

    Were the critics only attacking the hemispheric model as a view among Mormons, I’d not have problems with what they do. However they typically go to pains to argue that careful readings are wrong and not authentically Mormon. i.e. they craft arguments so as to be able to discount careful readings.

  25. Clark: I agree with you that the critics do have to address the LGT on its merits, and can’t simply dismiss because it is not the historical understanding. I have probably sounded a bit more pig headed on this issue than I intended. However, I do understand why they would question the legitimacy of the LGT given that we have clearly historically taught the hemphispheric model. Couple this fact with our assertion that we are the one true church, led by inspired prophets and apostles, and I think it is quite understandable that they are unwilling to let us escape our historical shackles by muttering something about prophets being fallible and we now have a greater understanding than used to have. When we radically alter our own interpretation of our own scriptures and summarily toss into the trash can statements of leaders who we claim to be inspired apostles and prophets of God, we should not get too indignant when our critics take us to task for that. We do have some explaining to do and I don’t think we should be too indignant at their unwillingness to let us change the rules of the game without a fight.

  26. Thanks for clarifying your POV, Gary. Sounds like we agree more than at first impression.

  27. Terryl Givens in his “Hand of Mormon” book cites that Joseph Smith himself changed his mind about the North-South America theory after the discovery of Middle-American Mayan/Aztec cities. I don’t have the page number but i know it’s there.

  28. Clark Goble writes:

    You see this in such questionable taxonomies like “Chapel Mormons” vs. “Internet Mormons.” The whole point is really to be able to just discount any nuanced or sophisticated approach to scripture so that critics can go back to attacking Mormonism the way they used to.

    That was an utterly false statement. The taxonomy is to explain and understand these two LDS paradigms.

    In a way it is quite lazy. (IMO) After all does it really take that much work for the critic to engage with the ideas of those who think about theology and history?

    Of course it doesn’t. Critics simply want to engage real Mormonism, not the apologists’ brand-new pet theories thereof.

    No one criticizes a scientist because some of their hypothesis about reality turn out to be somewhat flawed. Neither do we expect the scientist to fully cast aside everything they believe. Rather they look for the error, make some modifications and test those. So why is Mormon theology and history treated so differently by some?

    Because in this case, it isn’t the prophets themselves who are “making some modifications,” as Mormonism itself teaches is the proper way. It is the apologists who are “making some modifications” on their own without any form of official sanction–which is precisely the reason why Mormons say the Catholics went into apostasy.

  29. On issues where the prophets have proclaimed no revelation and declared no official position, various positions are legitimate, and they must be judged by their comparative cogency, the quality of their logic, and their coherence with the evidence. The prophets have taken no official stance either for or against limited geographical models. Their lack of official opposition to John Sorenson’s limited geographical view, in particular, was apparent when his two articles on Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon were published in the Ensign back in the mid-1980s.

    There has been no “modification” of the Church’s official view of Book of Mormon geography because there never existed such an official view to be “modified.” No geographical view constitutes “real Mormonism,” because real Mormonism is defined by scriptures and prophets and because no scriptures and no prophets authoritatively commit Latter-day Saints to acceptance of a hemispheric model.

    Incidentally, Shades’s exaggerated dichotomy between “chapel Mormons” and “internet Mormons,” between two speciously distinct “paradigms” (or, as he has sometimes termed them, “two distinct churches”), is a bogus caricature, of essentially no analytical value, though, in certain circles, it has proven itself an effective instrument of propaganda.

  30. Incidentally, I like the irrepressible Lou Midgley very much. He’s an original. He is colorful. But, alas, he is not the vicious ogre of many critics’ oft-savored fantasies.

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