In Defense of Apologists

August 26, 2008
By

The term “apologist” is often used derisively like the terms “lawyer,” “statistician,” or “telemarketer.”  Why are apologists so derided?  Is it warranted or just a bum rap?

An apologist is “a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc.”  Usually, the term is used in a religious or philosophical context.  Wikipedia adds:  Apologists are authors, writers, editors of scientific logs or academic journals, and leaders known for taking on the points in arguments, conflicts or positions that are either placed under popular scrutinies or viewed under persecutory examinations. The term comes from the Greek word apologia (απολογία), meaning a speaking in defense.  Apologists have been around for a long time.  The Apostle Paul was essentially a Christian apologist. Mormon apologists can be found at places like FARMS and FAIRWiki.

Why Are Apologists Reviled?

http://www.globalwarmingart.com/images/thumb/d/d9/Incandescent_Light_Bulb.png/300px-Incandescent_Light_Bulb.pngLet me illustrate with a simple joke:

  • QHow many apologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
  • A:  Since there is light, we know that the number of apologists involved was sufficient to complete the operation of lightbulb-screwing-in to connect the lightbulb to a power source which could then create the light.  Or if there were no apologists involved in the lightbulb-screwing-in, somehow or other it got screwed in.  Look, a butterfly!
  • IOW:  We don’t know how, but we know there is light.

From Wikipedia:  Apologists have been characterized as being deceptive, or “whitewashing” their cause, primarily through omission of negative facts (selective perception) and exaggeration of positive ones, techniques of classical rhetoric. When used in this context, the term often has a pejorative meaning.

Here are some common criticisms of apologists:

  1. They are not objective; they approach a problem backwards, beginning with the conclusion (like reverse engineering).  IOW, their methods are not exploratory (e.g. scientific method), but are in fact merely confirming a belief already held (hmmm, sound a lot like the detractors’ arguments).  In their defenseThe detractors are generally equally biased.
  2. They are defensive.  This is true in the same sense that a defense attorney is defensive.  When an idea is attacked or criticized, an apologist comes forward to answer that criticism.  So, apologists are defensive in the way an NBA team is defensive of their basket when the opposing team has the ball.  In their defenseAn offensive attack calls for a defensive response.
  3. They require “mental gymnastics.” The most prevalent criticism of apologists is that their arguments are more complex and sometimes less convincing than the criticism they are refuting.  The simple fact is that this is a necessary byproduct of a defensive posture.  You are not arguing “for” something, asserting its validity; you are responding to a criticism, which means, you review its merits on the basis of all facets of the criticism.  In their defenseApologists don’t have the home court advantage.
  4. They degenerate into bickering. When someone leaves a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep, and you respond by leaving a bigger flaming bag of poop on their doorstep, be prepared to wash your hands afterward.  And if someone leaves a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep, ignoring it might narrow the number of visitors to only the really diligent.  In their defenseThe detractors started it!
  5. They are irrelevant; faith cannot be proven or disproven as it is not based on logic, but rather subjective personal spiritual experience.  So, deigning to refute the critics of faith using the tools of logic is not likely to be very convincing to those who rely on faith.  Nor is a faith-based argument likely to convince a staunch logician.  In their defenseYou can’t beat a football team with baseball skills.  Also, even if the arguments are ultimately irrelevant, someone has to respond.  Perhaps apologists and critics are like Rock-em Sock-em robots; they just engage each other in the circle of debate, but it’s really just a game.

Maybe apologists are like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (paraphrased):

Every morning I eat breakfast 400 yards from evangelical ministers, the disaffected, and anti-Mormons trained to destroy testimonies.  We live in a world that has religious beliefs, and those religious beliefs have to be guarded by men (and women) with facts and theories. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for the disaffected, and you curse the apologists. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know — that apologetics, while requiring mental gymnastics, probably saves testimonies; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves eternal lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on FAIRWiki — you need me on FAIRWiki.  We use words like “historical evidence,” “account,” and “source.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a person who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very religious freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you get on the internet and stand the post. Either way, I don’t give a $@?!# what you think you’re entitled to!

So, what do you think?  Are apologists performing a necessary service by defending the faith?  Or do you think they miss the point?  If so, what alternative do you suggest?  And where are these “places we don’t talk about at parties”?  Discuss.

52 Responses to In Defense of Apologists

  1. Valoel
    August 26, 2008 at 7:27 am

    I think they perform a role in the great symphonic opera of religious faith. I guess I don’t have in my mind such a negative picture of apologists. Some people do. It’s not that I feel like I am really on their side, but I think they are a necessary part of the symphony. Leaving them out is like starting the show without a whole section of instruments and singers.

    Are they objective? No, of course not. They champion a side.

    Are they defensive? Yes. They explicitly defend their side. That is their purpose — to defend the faith.

    They require mental gymnastics? We’re talking about religion here. It’s all mental gymnastics at some point.

    They degenerate into bickering? If they do, then they fail IMO. I can understand them getting emotional about the topic.

    Are they irrelevant? Faith cannot be proved or disproved. So why are the critics of religion too? They have the same burden — proving faith is irrelevant and false.

  2. August 26, 2008 at 8:34 am

    IMO there is nothing inherently wrong with apologetics. That said, there are good and bad ways to do apologetics. I would equate Bad apologetics with what you’ve listed above. Good apologetics I would hardly differentiate from “merely doing one’s best to defend an argument.” As such, good apologetics is simply good argumentation (not that I know how to easily define good argumentation). For an interesting read on the larger topic of apologetics check out Paul Griffths’ “An Apology for Apologetics”, where he gets into the “responsibility” of the believer to engage in both “negative” and “positive” apologetics (I would call these “defensive” and “offensive” apologetics, personally).

  3. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 9:20 am

    “So, what do you think? Are apologists performing a necessary service by defending the faith?”

    Of course. They are sharing how they look at difficult issues and letting others decide if they agree or disagree. Hmm… exactly like the detractors.

    “Or do you think they miss the point?”

    Have we even defined what the point is yet?

    “And where are these “places we don’t talk about at parties”?”

    That’s the DAMU boards. :P Just kidding.

    I just want to add a few facts:

    1. Detractors are apologists as much as “apologists” are and they use the exact same (sometimes good and sometimes bad) tactics. In fact, if we are grading on a curve the detractor apologists (who are defending their religious beliefs as much as the LDS apologists) are not scoring as well as the FAIR apologists in terms of honesty and integrity. Why? Because at a minimum, we have to admit that FAIR apologists almost always admit their biases upfront while detractors almost always claims they have no biases. Thus we see FAIR apologists are being more honest upfront about their purposes and how they derived their arguments.

    2. One person’s mental gymnastics is another person’s reason. And vice versa. I could line up the mental gymnastics I’ve seen right here on Mormon Matters amongst the dectractor apologists just like I could for the LDS apologists. And yet it seems to reasonable to them no matter how bad the logic.

    Example: Joseph Smith never said the two figures he saw were the Father and the Son because he was trying to avoid blashpheme because he knew he was lying. What the?!?!?

    I’ve heard that one more than once now (could two minds really have come up with something this bad without outside input?) and the funny thing is that the persons saying it really and truly seemed to think they were saying something rational and reasonable. Overwhelming reason did nothing to move them.

    Of course detractor apologists do often make valid points too. I’m not claiming otherwise. My only point here is that it’s a humorous how often those that make fun of LDS apologists use the very tactics — or worse — that they decry in LDS apologists.

    3. Tactics are almost exactly the same on both sides. Presumably because they are the only tactics available and they are effective:

    Examples — think of both sides here:
    * Selective use of facts
    * Interpreting facts that have more than one possible interpretation
    * Prooftexting
    * Use of emotion rather than reason
    * Use of reason as a post facto explanation of a decision previously made
    * Equivocation (using one definition when you know your opponent is using another)
    * Wordism (Offence over a word)
    * Ignoring the existence of counter arguments

    The list could go on and on. Make fun of your enemy at your own risk. They are likely the same as you and you are likely setting up a just judgement of your own approach. :)

  4. August 26, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I can’t add much other than I think apologists are necessary to keep balance in the universe.

  5. August 26, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Perhaps not unlike the werewolves and the vampires (my first AND last Twilight reference), or Batman and the Joker. They both need each other. :)

  6. SteveS
    August 26, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I think the Nicholson “quote” is hilarious, but I’m not sure what it says about apologists. Remember Nicholson is defending his flaunting of basic human rights protected by the government in the name of national security. While the movie paints Nicholson as the villian here, his speech nevertheless makes us squirm, because we have a strong inclination that “ends justify means” philosophy has affected, and will continue to affect national security considerations in the future, and we are all the beneficiaries and by extension accomplices to the injustices rationalized by such philosophies. Really, I don’t see apologists fitting the Nicholson description here as much as I do some decisions made by the General Authorities of the church. When uppity scholars don’t play nice with the rest of the Saints, they get the “code red” and are excommunicated (or “killed off”, spiritually speaking) to preserve the integrity and security of the Body of Christ (similar to the “ship of State” in a governmental context). Perhaps the apologists are like Kevin Bacon’s character: lawyers for people like Nicholson. :-)

  7. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Hawk says: “Perhaps apologists and critics are like Rock-em Sock-em robots; they just engage each other in the circle of debate, but it’s really just a game.”

    I think there is a LOT of truth to this. We believe what we believe based on spiritual intuitions (both sides) and then we come up with rational reasons post facto to convince others with. Thus I think the rational apologetics on both sides are really just a game. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a necessary one or even an important one.

  8. August 26, 2008 at 10:10 am

    It seems a little sad that the best defense for apologists is that the detractors set the rules of playing dirty so don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

    For me, the biggest challenge to faith (at least in the LDS gospel) is not a smoking gun, but in the cumulative mass of issues which require apologetic reasoning. The process works like this (very similar to litigation):

    1. criticism is given
    2. indictment is made (doubt)
    3. apologist presents a complicated defense
    4. in many cases, the best the defense can do is re-introduce reasonable doubt in the details of the criticism, but usually it does nothing to support the faithful claim

    So in the cumulative sense, at least for me personally, apologetics only serve to deflect the critics, but do not make me feel any more comfortable with the fact that so many aspects of the foundational story still come out cloudy. In other words, they block the arrows they can, but it doesn’t change the fact that we stand in the battlefield with a lot of weak spots in our armor.

  9. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Clay said: “It seems a little sad that the best defense for apologists is that the detractors set the rules of playing dirty so don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”

    You just put yourself above the fray with this, Clay. But I’d submit that you are an apologist too for your belief system and in the very same position playing by the same rules.

    I’m not sure I agree with you that such “rules” are necessarily “dirty.” I will give you credit, Clay, that you really do mostly avoid what I’d call “dirty tactics” (No one is fully immune, of course. But you are as tolerant as any one I know. I mean that as a sincere compliment.)

    However, the list I gave are not, necessarily, dirty tactics at all.

    Also, I feel that there are some massive chinks in your own armor of your own beliefs that you simply aren’t able to rationally acknowledge at this point. But that would always be true of any religious belief system, so I don’t mean that as a knock at you in any way. But it is true.

    Again, my point is that we aren’t so different. It is your bias in favor of your own beliefs that cause you to feel that “the other guys” are in a weaker position then you. But again, that seems so completely natural. It’s difficult to really hold it up as a negative at all.

  10. Jeff Spector
    August 26, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I see apologetics as providing an explanation to those things which are not intuitively obvious. In some cases, apologists stretch the reasonable to an unreasonable conclusion because they themselves take the issue on faith and that is harder to explain to someone not so inclined.

    where they can come off the rails is where the stretch is so outrageous as to not be believed even by believers. I find that happens on occasion with standard Christian apologetics as well as Mormon apologetics.

    For example (speaking for myself), explaining the traditional Christian concept of the Trinity or explaining the differences in the First Vision accounts. Sometimes a reasonable explanation just isn’t possible. One has to take it on faith.

  11. Matt Thurston
    August 26, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I like Valoel’s “great symphonic opera of religious faith” idea. I’m a big believer in the open marketplace of ideas. While an objective, universal “truth” may be impossible to determine, I think one has a reasonable chance of determining “personal truth” if one has access to all of the musical instruments in the “great symphonic opera.”

    So, for many, Apologetics is their “personal truth.”

    My problem is that Church feels like an anemic two-instrument symphony… I can only hear the Correlated Piccolo and the Apologetic Violin.

  12. August 26, 2008 at 10:49 am

    “I’d submit that you are an apologist too for your belief system and in the very same position playing by the same rules.”

    That might have been partially true in the past, but things have change for me. My “message” has nothing to do with the connection to one particular belief system.

    “Also, I feel that there are some massive chinks in your own armor of your own beliefs that you simply aren’t able to rationally acknowledge at this point.”

    Ah, there’s the old Bruce. Dude, that is a MASSIVE leap to conclusions about another person. I’m not mad at you, though. But trust me, you don’t know what I believe, because I don’t totally know. I am trying to spend most of my energy on how I can just do some good. I think apologetics are not helpful because they treat the wrong problem. They deal with damage to certainty. We are not talking about faith when we say “shaken faith syndrome”. Faith is what you have to have after the certainty has been broken. I think rather than certainty we need more love for our enemies, more joy in the midst of suffering, more patience in conflict. Maybe that is my belief system, and maybe it has chinks in the armor, but I don’t think that system is mutually independent from any religious system.

    (p.s. I’m not saying I’m good at living this, but I just believe I have to really start trying. Its really hard to change your conditioning.)

  13. Jeff Spector
    August 26, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Clay,

    “Faith is what you have to have after the certainty has been broken.”

    This is an interesting statement you make. Because, in religious matters, there is either intellectual certainly (the facts prove it)or faith-based certainty (witness from the Holy Ghost). Maybe, if your intellectual certainly fails, you have to fall back on faith, But it seems in your statement, faith is not viable. Is that the case? or, are you saying that you can have a faith-based certainty that has no Holy Ghost confirmation attached?

  14. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Clay said: “That might have been partially true in the past, but things have change for me. My “message” has nothing to do with the connection to one particular belief system.”

    I know you see your self that way. But you do have a belief system that could and should constitute a religion. It is “one particular” belief system even if it borrows some from many others. (But that is true of all religions, of course.)

    Clay says: “Dude, that is a MASSIVE leap to conclusions about another person. I’m not mad at you, though. But trust me, you don’t know what I believe, because I don’t totally know.”

    Well, actually, that was the main chink I was thinking of.

    Please understand, Clay, I’m not “attacking” when I say this. It’s just an observation that seems to be universally true. We all have “chinks” in our armor but we all think “the other guys” are worse than ours.

    Clay says: “Maybe that is my belief system, and maybe it has chinks in the armor, but I don’t think that system is mutually independent from any religious system.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Did you mean mutually exclusive? Please clarify.

    I think where you are going with this is that you believe in “…more love for our enemies, more joy in the midst of suffering, more patience in conflict.”

    But of course that is what all religions believe. So does this statement really define Clay’s beliefs? I’d suggested that it doesn’t.

    What does define Clay’s beliefs compared to mine or someone else’s? It’s really on how you define what is or isn’t moral, how that information is to be obtained, what sources are truthworthy, what truth claims you ultimately make.

    And when it comes to this department, you DO have a specific set of beliefs you have espoused on many occaisions. For example, you have posted about many beliefs you hold on many topics about the nature of morality, what is and isn’t moral, how God should or shouldn’t act, when God does or doesn’t communicate, how God communicates, how much he’s communicated to you, what he’s communicated to you, etc.

    These are your beliefs and they are your religion. They are what make you different or the same as someone else’s beliefs and religion.

  15. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Clay, I’d like to reword something to clarify my point for you. You claimed I was making a massive leap to conclusions about you with this statement:

    “Also, I feel that there are some massive chinks in your own armor of your own beliefs that you simply aren’t able to rationally acknowledge at this point.”

    So let me reword it:

    “Clay, I have read a lot of your posts and you make various truth claims including claims to revelation from God on many subjects. Many of these claims do not, to me at least, add up logically. Now they may seem logical to to you, and I acknowledge that fact. And since I’m bias, and so are you, it’s probably impossible for us to determine if one of us is being “more logical” than the other.

    That being said, I personally feel that there are some massive chinks in your own armor of your own beliefs that you simply aren’t able to rationally acknowledge at this point. I would expect you to feel the same way in reverse and that’s okay. Indeed, clearly you do feel that way as you’ve stated about the believing Mormon position in your post #8.

    My only point was that you aren’t above the fray as you think you are. You are a person with a religious belief system and you are an apologist for it and you (perhaps unknowingly) use the very same tactics we’ve listed here. and I think that’s okay and a good thing.”

  16. Kevin Barney
    August 26, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Thanks, Hawkgrrrl, for the excellent apologia for apologetics. Very well done.

    I just want to clarify a common misperception about FAIR (an organization in which I’m heavily involved). It is quite true that FAIR originated as a part of the rock ‘em sock ‘em robot school of apologetics, with take-no-prisoner debates directly with detractors, mostly over the internet. So historically that reputation was deserved.

    But since my own involvement with the organization at least, the focus has changed substantially to what I call “educative apologetics.” As an organization, we no longer do debates or even interface much at all directly with detractors. Our focus is on those Saints and investigators who are adversely affected by antagonistic arguments. Our aim is to educate the ordinary members of the Church who get blindsided by something they find in a stray google search while preparing a talk, that sort of thing.

    When someone sends in a question, I often ask myself, “I’m familiar with this issue, and I’m fine with it, but it is really bothering Sister X. Why am I ok with it, and how can I communicate that effectively to Sister X so that she isn’t so troubled by it anymore?” Often it’s simply a lack of basic information, and so pointing the person to available internet resources, articles or books will suffice. Sometimes you might have to hold her hand a little bit through the process. But I can’t tell you how gratifying it can be to have someone feel her faith slipping away and to help that person to shore it up and reclaim it.

    To me, if I have the background knowledge and temperament to personally absorb critical argument about the Church without ill effect, it would seem selfish of me not to freely share what I can with Saints who are struggling.

  17. August 26, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Jeff, in our LDS culture it is common to see it as being possible and achieved on a fairly regular basis that faith can culminate to a point where it is no longer characterized by hope in spite of uncertainty (which I think most of the world would consider to be “faith”), but instead becomes knowledge as sure as knowing that the light will turn on when you flip the switch. This is what we declare to each other over and over. To me, faith is still active and still has opposition from doubt. Once an idea becomes a certainty in your heart and mind (e.g. I know Joseph saw HF and JC with every fibre…) it is no longer faith. Even based on a personal interpretation of the spirit, if a person takes that as evidence that proves their faith-based belief to be fact, it passes out of faith and into certainty.

    Bruce, I’m not sure what to say. It seems that you are just not comfortable with not being able to find a place for everyone in the encyclopedia. Like I said, I’m not mad at you and I don’t feel like I’m being attacked. We’re good, brother. Do I have my own religion? I don’t think so. Do I have a code of ethics, and personal methods of understanding morality? Sure. I just disagree that that is the same thing as religion. In my view, religion is the structure by which a community shares a code of ethics and practices. You pointed out that “all religions” share similar ethics to those I listed. I argue that humanity shares these ethics, and religion probably exists because of that, rather than vice versa. Is that my religion? ;-)

  18. August 26, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Just wanted to pipe in on the first point that “They are not objective.” Objectivity itself is a very problematic notion. I don’t believe “objectivity” is really possible, because all data is theory-laden going into it. In addition, very little of what we read, see, or hear does not reach us in an already-mediated condition.

  19. hawkgrrrl
    August 26, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    I think Bruce just means that each person has his/her own “religion” regardless of what religion you profess – however you view things is your own bias and your own religion and your own set of beliefs. Therefore, anything you say is essentially from that bias, making every word we utter or type on a comment board an apologetic for our own POV.

    Kevin – I’m honored, sir! I actually have noticed that shift in FAIR in recent months. I do read that stuff, personally, and while I don’t find every argument equally convincing, I find them pretty interesting on the whole. But I was fed on a steady diet of anti-Mormon literature from my days as a wee lass and have developed quite a high tolerance for poison as well, or as you put it, “I have the background knowledge and temperament to personally absorb critical argument about the Church without ill effect.” The real issue seems to come up when church members were not exposed to these things from a young age or were never aware of them until suddenly it all hit them like a ton of bricks. What people like to call “New Mormon History” I tend to think of as “Old Anti-Mormon History.” Not because it’s all false and damaging, just because most of it has been public information for a very long time.

  20. Jeff Spector
    August 26, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Clay,

    I hear what you are saying and I understand it in context to way members express themselves. But I fear that this certainty of which you speak, that is, a conclusion that is beyond “just things hoped for” and not supplanted by a witness of the Holy Ghost. It seems to me that “shaken faith” syndrome is more likely to occur in those cases.

    For me, I either know it because it seems intellectually and logically correct (like math) or because I have received a witness. If it is not in those two ways, than it is on faith, with the possibility of doubt creeping in from time to time.

  21. Jeff Spector
    August 26, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Hawk,

    “What people like to call “New Mormon History” I tend to think of as “Old Anti-Mormon History.” Not because it’s all false and damaging, just because most of it has been public information for a very long time.’

    what surprises me in those cases, is how quickly some jump to the conclusion that the church must be wrong and not give it the benefit of the doubt. They take the Anti-Mormon material and conclude it must be true.

  22. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Clay,

    You aren’t the type to get mad easily from what I’ve seen. So I’m comfortable that this is a “discussion” not an argument.

    I do feel you are being unfair (unintentionally) when you peg me like this: “Bruce, I’m not sure what to say. It seems that you are just not comfortable with not being able to find a place for everyone in the encyclopedia.”

    I’m not mad when you say this, I see what you are saying, I just realize you are misunderstanding what I am saying.

    The fact is that you do have a “religious belief system” as clearly as I do. I believe that by redefining your religious belief system as “not a religious believe system but only a code of ethics” that you are doing so for the sake of being able to make negative claims about tactics of those that you disagree with while using the very same tactics yourself.

    Let me get more specific:

    Do you ever prooftext? Of course you do, because we all do. It would be easy for me to find examples of you quoting scripture to your own ends to make your point without bring up possible counter interpretations. Is this really a dirty tactic? Not in my mind. The reason people prooftext is because… drum roll please… they honestly believe it. They take some quote that could have more than one meaning and quote it as if it proves their point. But of course the reason people do this is because *they honestly believe it proves their point.*

    Do you sometimes bring up “issues” without bring up all the possible counter evidence? Of course you do. Why? Well, the general reason this happens is because either we feel the “counter evidence” isn’t valid or because we’re unaware of it. Not that long ago we had a discussion off line about seer stones and LDS art that followed this pattern. You didn’t have or bring up all the facts, which I promptly did. Why? Presumably you didn’t agree that the “other facts” were pertinent so they weren’t worth bringing up. Yet to me they are the whole difference. Is this really a “dirty tactic?” I don’t think so. It’s a normal natural part of being human and biased. We literally can’t help it.

    Do you use emotion instead of reason? Of course you do. I could point to countless examples here on Mormon Matters and I think you know this is true. :)

    Do you interpret facts that have more than one possible interpretation? Gosh, I hope you won’t claim you don’t. It should be obvious we all do that. Why? Because we really believe it! That’s why. Again, is this really a dirty tactic? I don’t think so.

    By saying all this am I trying to peg you into an encyclopedia as you said? Not in the least. I am only against you utilizing your unique religious status as a means of claiming that FAIR apologists are somehow using dirty tactics for behaving in the very same way you behave.

    Now by saying that, I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t LDS apologists out there that use dirty tactics. But you were defining what, in my mind, were “non-dirty tactics” as being “dirty tactics.” I felt compelled to point this out and use your own actions as proof that you don’t think they are so dirty when you use them. We need to be consistent in our judgements of both ourselves and others.

    Again, Clay, I want to make sure you realize how much I respect you. That you are an “apologist” is in my mind not a bad thing at all. I think you are a strong voice for ethics and moral conduct. But I do think you are sometimes unintentionally unfair, as I believe you are in #8 and in summarizing my points as trying to categorize you into an encylopedia.

  23. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    “I argue that humanity shares these ethics, and religion probably exists because of that, rather than vice versa. Is that my religion?”

    I just want to point out that this is a clear truth claim about the nature of the world.

    #19 – Hawkgrrl has me correct. I am saying just what she did in #19.

    I think the word we’re tripping up on is “religion.” Since Clay doesn’t use that term to represent his personal belief system, he is taking exception to what I say. I’m not clear if we are really disagreeing or just arguing over the meaning of a word.

    But what’s the difference between a “religion” and a “belief system?” And why is it okay for those that have a “belief system” (whatever that means) to use apologist tactics while those that are part of of a “religion” (whatever that means) can’t without being “dishonest” or “dirty”?

    I would agree that apologists are not trying to be unbiased and give all possible sides of the issues (though I think they often do indeed give all sides of the issue, far more often then we give them credit for.) But, Clay, neither are you. Not by a long shot. That’s my only point here.

    Clay, if you honestly disagree with that point — if you honestly believe that you are unbiased and give all sides of an issues and that you are being purely rational about your beliefs, then we must agree to disagree about this.

  24. August 26, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Bruce, the list of tactics you gave are not what I would call dirty. When people share a statement of belief that is not in condemnation of others, I have no problem with that. When someone insults you and you address the points of the insult, no problem with that. Its dirty when a critic makes an argument, and then apologists rebut the argument by calling into question the character of the critic.

    When I was investigating the church at age 17, I was identified as a seeker by many friends and co-workers surrounding me. The sharks smelled blood. They all had something defensive or offensive to say. It was a religious battle. There was one exception. The LDS folks, the girl I originally met and also the missionaries she referred, said nothing about criticisms or other religions. All I got from them were positive statements of their belief and how their lives were blessed by it. That made as much difference in my choice to join the church as anything else. I think if I had run into apologetics at that point, they would have just blended into the noise and I never would have joined.

    I guess I just hold onto this naive hope that God’s message can stand on its own merit. That is probably why I am perpetually disappointed with religion and keep moving more and more into the core ethics. Those are pretty solid and don’t need to be attacked or defended.

    Peter cut off the ear of the soldier arresting Jesus, but Jesus told Peter not to live by the sword, and even healed the soldier! Jesus didn’t just ask me to follow Him, He demonstrated why its a good idea. I am just so tired with spiritual war rhetoric and action, and I long for a religious and spiritual life that is primarily characterized by love, rather than the conflict between good and evil and fighting the influence of Satan. So tired of that. Sometimes it makes me sad, and sometimes a little angry. Like I said, its so hard to change and I do apologize. Intentionally unfair? No. Unfair? Yes. So I do thank you for your feelings to bring me closer to understanding.

  25. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Clay says: “Bruce, the list of tactics you gave are not what I would call dirty. When people share a statement of belief that is not in condemnation of others, I have no problem with that. When someone insults you and you address the points of the insult, no problem with that. Its dirty when a critic makes an argument, and then apologists rebut the argument by calling into question the character of the critic.”

    Okay, you and I both can agree upon the above statement.

    But let me ask you something, did anyone prior to post #8 of yours (or after for that matter) advocate such apologetics?

    When you said “it seems a little sad that the best defense for apologists is that the detractors set the rules of playing dirty so don’t hate the playa, hate the game” it certainly came across like you were condemning tactics already discussed up to that point. Do you see why I took your statement in that context and light?

    Anyhow, I should probably point out that you have specifically been involved with apologetics for the LDS church in the past and I haven’t. (What I mean here is that I’ve never been a part of an apologetics group and you have. Obviously I am an “apologist” for what I believe in as much as anyone.) So you have a basis for concern that I don’t have.

    I suspect that when you make statements like you did in #8 that you are specifically thinking of situations from your past.

    But I would like to point out that that past is long gone, for the most part, at least if we are discussing FAIR or FARMS, as #16 points out. I think we need to accept this and work with where we are currently at and not with a hideous past that has long been repented of.

    Now you might counter that FAIR or FARMS still do sometimes use “dirty tactics.” But now here is where we might differ. They are human, so “dirty tactics” will sometimes happen, I admit. But I think you’d be very very hard pressed to find any examples of so called “dirty tactics” at FAIR or FARMS in the last 3 or 4 years that I couldn’t easily show you (or anyone else for that matter) as utilizing also.

    In short, I think we need to give them their dues here. They really are very careful nowadays about how they handle their apologetics. They can’t change the past, they can only change the present.

  26. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    “Like I said, its so hard to change and I do apologize. Intentionally unfair? No. Unfair? Yes. So I do thank you for your feelings to bring me closer to understanding.”

    I never for a moment thought there was any bad intention with what you believe or do, Clay. I can’t say I feel that way about all “liberal Mormons” (I don’t mean politically liberal here.) But I certainly feel that way about you.

    And I enjoyed your story.

    By the way, I know you’ve been away from Mormon Matters for a long time, Clay… but did you ever notice that I rarely interacted with your comments in the past? I know this is going to sound crazy, but it wasn’t because I was ignoring you at all. It was because you are so careful to be tolerant (as I define that term anyhow) of believing Mormons that there was rarely, if ever, something for me to bring up with you. I simply couldn’t think of anything to say.

    You are sometimes “harsh” in your judgements of Church policy, of course, but I do not see this as being intolerant or unacceptable. We all need to express what we believe the truth to be. You do this very well without resorting to unfair tactics and you’re a credit to faithful doubters.

  27. Santa Claus
    August 26, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    I am, or consider myself an apologist. And what I see in those that defend the Church is, even if their theories turn out to be wrong, most of the time they actually BELIEVE what they are saying. So you might think that they don’t have their facts straight, and it might turn out that they don’t. But in the end, they really believed at the time that what they were saying was right, and they did it in the spirit of the defense of truth. And they do it because they know the core truth, but they don’t know the full truth of all of the trivia. Unfortunately, its always the trivia that the anti mormons make the most of, and it is always that where people are losing testimonies, because they feel that if this or that in the trivia isn’t true, that must mean the core claims aren’t true. So we are doing all we can to protect the “young-lings” from the wolves. It is all about considering oneself the “big brother” that beats up on the dude trying to beat up on the little brother. It doesn’t matter what shape or form the stick is in, and certainly, in good faith, you hope your stick is the right one. You just grab the stick and beat, hoping that you can do your best. If you beat him with the wrong stick in the end, at least your little brother didn’t get beat up on.

  28. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    #27 – Thank you for sharing.

    I think you are right that LDS apologists overwhelming believe what they are saying to the best of their knowledge. Of course I feel that way about apologist for non-believing points of view also as well as for every religion.

    I think this is exactly why we need to cut each other some slack here. I would hate to be labeled dishonest just because I happen to not know everything and I suspect those labeling others that way would feel the same.

    If we know there is real dishonesty going on, say the real facts are brought up and ignored and the false version still spread, then I think we have a real tolerance issue. (We’ve had several examples of that, particularly from the Evangelical Christian’s counter cult movement community.) But before that, we probably ought to generally assume statements are made in good faith and will be changed if more facts are brought out.

    That being said, I think we have a human tendency to mistake fact and opinion and I think this is the primary basis for calling “apologists” deceptive. We figure our opinions are truth and only an idiot would disagree with us, thus the apologist (who isn’t an idiot) must be lying. It’s solid logic built on a false assumption.

  29. UFO Skeptic
    August 26, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I take issue with the way FARMS and FAIR treat the people that don’t agree with their pet theories, who consider themselves apologists as well, but don’t agree with the “Big Scholar” way of thinking. Book of Mormon Geography is the perfect example, with Meldrum. They didn’t give Meldrum a good enough chance to respond to what they were going to say about him before they laid into him. And then when he did respond, they didn’t post his response to show how he was trying to fix the issues they brought up. That seems to be a club/clique mentality. The Mesoamerican theory dominates, and the other theories don’t even get considered, and laying into the proponents on the other theories. The people that don’t side with the “Big Scholar” consensus are just brushed off as lunatic fringe. FARMS and FAIR seem to have merged to a large degree, with scholars from the one publishing with the other and vice versa. I am also an apologist, but I’m also a FARMS and FAIR critic for the way that I and others have been treated by these people.

  30. Matt Thurston
    August 26, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    This Bruce vs. Clay discussion seems to be an almost identical debate I had with Bruce on July 27th on Denae’s “I’m Okay; You’re Okay” post…

  31. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I suppose I should add that I do know a bit about what UFO Skeptic is talking about. I once sent a question to ask an apologist and when I didn’t get a response back decided to do my own research into the subject. After I had found a lot of (I felt) useful info I sent the answer back to them and they didn’t seem to like it that much. :)

    I suppose I never saw this as mistreatment, however, just as standard scholarly debate. They were only interested in answers that fit their ideas and theories. But doesn’t that make sense?

    Also, this story suggests that FAIR is some sort of unified club, but I found that was not true. They were pretty disorganized, actually. (I don’t mean that as a knock, we’re talking about very busy people doing this out of a labor of love on the side.) And when I did finally solicit feedback from them on my ideas, they didn’t agree with each other either. :)

    Again, I saw it all as standard scholarly debate. I didn’t feel slighted by this.

    But I’m afraid this is the extend of my association with FAIR and so I’m not speaking from much first hand experience.

  32. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    #31 – It is the same debate I’ve had with every faithful doubter on this board, Matt.

  33. UFO Skeptic
    August 26, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Bruce,

    I would say yes, apparently you don’t know what I’m talking about, as you didn’t live it. I’m saying that there is a lot of frustration out there among independents that feel like there is a domineering type attitude among these groups that have a lot of prestige. Some of us feel mistreated and a bit resentful about it.

    I’m sure, as those who have read my postings from the past would know, I cannot bring myself to align with Sunstone or Signature Books. I’m a man without a “home” so to speak.

    I have moved on, and am working on new things. But I still struggle to not feel negative towards them, and I’m still trying to “forgive” and move on. Often in my writings, I find myself trying not to rip on these people, and have to pull myself out of it and go back and rewrite it so as not to manifest my lingering feelings about them. They are not interested in feedback, or answering real questions about their positions. Many of them just want to “win” and be “right” and maintain their dogmatism.

  34. Lost in Magna
    August 26, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Disorganization doesn’t mean that there isn’t consensus on many points. Sometimes its only consensus among a group that defines a stubborn ideology.

  35. Matt Thurston
    August 26, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    #33, And you still haven’t won a debate yet! :)

  36. Bruce Nielson
    August 26, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    #36 – on the contrary, you conceded my point. :P (sort of)

  37. Hawkgrrrl
    August 26, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    On the pingback article at M*, Clark Goble lists the converse of my above list. Here’s what he says good apologetics constitute. See if you agree:
    1 – Plausibility. Presenting a possibility is insufficient.
    2 – Hermeneutics, not proof-texts. You defend your reading of the text and recognize each text has its own context and often uses terms in unique ways.
    3 – Education, not debate. Your object is to inform, not to win.
    4 – Spiritual experience and the burden of proof. Often arguments hinge upon what evidence is allowed. If the very assumption of God, angels, and revelation is disallowed then of course apologetics is impotent.
    5 – Don’t neglect evidence. Good apologetics recognizes ones opponents strongest arguments and not their weakest ones. And good apologetics anticipates counter arguments and prepares answers for them.
    6 – Build on common ground. Often whether we are talking with Evangelical critics or naturalistic critics there is a lot of common ground we share. Start there and you’ll be able to provide justification for how your position is plausible. You may not be able to convince, but you can at least get them to understand that your belief is rational.

    What do you think? Anything with which you disagree? Anything you would add?

  38. Imperfection
    August 26, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    “If the very assumption of God, angels, and revelation is disallowed then of course apologetics is impotent.

    Truth is never impotent.

    My problem with apologetics is that it is not about truth but about preservation of belief. Have you ever believed in something that was not true? What then becomes the greater goal; preservation of that belief or the search for truth?

    A strongly held belief can be the greatest impediment to truth. In that regard I consider apologetics a dangerous art. Mormon or otherwise.

  39. Jeff Spector
    August 26, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    “A strongly held belief can be the greatest impediment to truth” One ofthe thing i took away from my brief study of Scientiology was the phrase, “What’s true for you is true.” i thought, at that time that is sounded right, but the more I thought about it I realized that what you may think is true, you may actually be wrong.

    Apologetics done properly provides evidence to support a belief and then we are able to make up our own minds.

  40. Clark
    August 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    BTW – I’d take exception to your claim, “Hawkgrrrl,” that apologetics isn’t objective. While there certainly is that strain of apologetics and history influenced by postmodernism (see this FPR discussion for example) I think that if by objective we mean being true to all the evidence then good apologists are. The question becomes what is all the evidence? If by objectivity we secretly mean the kind of naturalism where only publicly accepted positions within science to certain questions, then we aren’t. But ideally that shouldn’t really be that relevant to most questions. (IMO)

    If you make the topic narrower enough then broad questions about the existence of Nephites or God isn’t really an issue.

    Now if by objective we mean “fit to the best explanation” I think that’s also problematic since typically there are many plausible explanations for given data. So I think apologists can frequently be objective there as well.

    If by objective we mean “merely confirming a belief” rather than being exploratory I think that most apologists are objective there too. Most I know earnestly are looking for answers. However obviously if one has what one believes is an answer when you present or defend it your are going to give arguments for it. We wouldn’t expect a biologist to be disqualified when talking of evolution simply because he believes it strongly and will argue for what he already believes.

    So I think we have to be careful here.

  41. August 26, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    To add, within apologetics not everyone agrees. There are for any problem often multiple interpretations that are both plausible and faithful. So you’ll see apologists disagreeing amongst themselves. That to me highlights the nature of inquiry.

  42. UFO Skeptic
    August 27, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Imperfection,

    You are right to some degree, but I submit to you that most Mormons are not mature enough in their faith to weather a search for truth beyond simple testimony. They cannot fathom the complexities of a complex faith. They have not grown a thick skin to be able to deal with a complex faith. A complex faith is what I have, above and beyond my simple testimony. For me, it was because my faith was shaken but somehow didn’t wither and die entirely. It doesn’t have to be that way with people who are inoculated so that they eventually develop a complex faith.

    This is why so many people end up losing faith, because they are simply not mature enough in faith to move on to a complex faith.

  43. Scott Gordon
    August 27, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Sometimes what I see is critics trying to find a club with which they can beat the church. So there will naturally be some negative response.

    For example:

    1. Mormons are violent–as is put forward in a best selling book.

    2. Mormons are racist–Very true, as was most of America. But, certainly a somewhat unfair characterization if compared with many other very large evangelical Christian groups. I don’t believe I have ever heard that the US government had to call out the 101st Airborne division to protect a minority group from Mormons in this century as they did in Little Rock. Again, I am not discounting that Mormons were and are racist. Just that the claim can certainly be seen as a double standard.

    3. The LDS Church is dishonest and hides things–Most has been hidden in the Ensign or in Gospel Link CDs. So, it is hidden from non-readers and non-researchers.

    4. Some historical fact proves that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and therefore the Church is false.–Not a problem, so long as the source is examined, taken in context, taken in historical context and in light of other things said during the same time period. After all of that, we may simply have a difference of opinion in our conclusions.

    I can understand when it appears that people are mean when they react negatively to these characterizations and mischaracterizations. There is a lot of emotional baggage that can be pulled into the conversation. It is difficult to overcome human nature. Sometimes the claims are taken as fact, so the apologists are starting in a hole from the get-go. But, the main point is to educate people as to all of the facts involved. I really like Kevin Barney’s comments above.

    FAIR has been working hard to define its true audience and not be personally negative in any of its responses. But, since we are talking about topics that are close to the heart, it is easy to see why some things can be perceived to be personal and negative. The Meldrum article is a good example. We were in communication with him before any article was published, and we have given him a rough draft of all of our thoughts on his presentation. If giving him advance copies makes us mean, then I plead guilty.

    Some of the attacks on Apologists, FAIR (and FARMS) appear to be well-poisoning. Well-poisoning is a tactic sometimes used in debate and discussion when people believe the stakes are high. I hope that we all are mature enough to try to grow beyond that.

  44. Bruce Nielson
    August 27, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Wow, Scott, thanks for your excellent post and for clearing things up about the Meldrum situation.

    You make a lot of very good points.

  45. UFO Skeptic
    August 27, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Oh yeah, if you were serious about fully representing the facts of the Meldrum situation, you would post up on your main page MELDRUM’s response to your paper along side your own.
    It is typical of you to not represent both sides of an issue. I should know, because Meldrum isn’t the only one whose work it has happened to.

  46. Ray
    August 27, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    #48 – I have another couple of minutes and chose to read your comment that is in moderation. It is due to the links, but it also is longer than most of the posts here.

    Mormon Matters is not in any way affiliated with FAIR or FARMS. It is not our responsibility to act as a go-between for individuals who have a beef with FAIR or FARMS. Seriously, there is no reason why we need a full transcript of Meldrum’s response posted here; understanding your concern is fine for the purpose of this post, I believe. I think you have made that concern plain for everyone who reads and comments here. Anything more would be excessive beating of an already dead horse. (That is not to disparage your concern in any way; it just is saying that no more whipping is required here.)

  47. UFO Skeptic
    August 27, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Dead horse to you. Showing that you aren’t particularly concerned with something that doesn’t have direct impact on your life, showing that you also have no empathy for those in a position of the “little apologist”.

    Again Mr. Gordon. Its on your own site. Answer the charge. If you do not, then we know you have no concern for fairness, and you don’t give a damn for representing the issue in any other way than to have you “win.”

  48. Bruce Nielson
    August 27, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I think I see the issues here.

  49. AE HandOfGod
    September 23, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    An apologist is someone that apologises for someone elses belief. It’s nothing more than a backhanded insult; usually without argument or reason why the the apologist believes differently. :)

  50. Kim Reece-Lairson
    November 21, 2008 at 3:48 am

    Apoligizing, even for problems with one’s faith , is very Christian. Yeah Apologetics!

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