Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gilbert W. Scharffs' Book Online

Gilbert W. Scharffs' book, The Truth About "The God Makers, is available online at FAIRLDS.org, if you haven't noticed. It's his point-by-point response to the book, The God Makers. A lucrative anti-Mormon video was made based on the arguments in the book. Somewhat dated, but still kicking around. Anti-Mormon arguments generally haven't changed much over the years, so it's helpful to have Scharffs' response. Nice addition to the Internet library.

16 comments:

AlexG said...

Although I like the response, there is a section that deserves a lot of attention, that is 'Criticisms with some merit'. The overexageration of evidence to 'prove' the Book of Mormon, editing of history, etc is a constant Achilles heel to most so called 'apologists'. I don't usually buy most of the geographical or historical data 'proving' the Book of Mormon. Also, the thanktimonies usually born in Chruch neglect the most crucial part, i.e., JesusChrist. I like the 'neutral' and passionless response. Much of the animosity between critics and apologists relies heavily on the infantile responses of one to another. We need to have a better dialogue, not demonising each other into 'mindless morgs' or 'mindless antis'. The 'cartoons' at FAIR only help propagate this ridiculous game. People such as John Dehlin with his Mormon Stories are providing a new dialogue that needs to exist. Otherwise, it is only a shouting match, and it is getting very boring.

This book provides a good reference to start with the common charges, but faith is not constructed upon what the Church is not, rather on what it is. I think we need to centre ourselves into WHAT we actually believe, and not what we do not.

This references has been posted for a long time, but it is good that it can be made more accesible.

Mike Parker said...

AlexG: The 'cartoons' at FAIR only help propagate this ridiculous game.

If it's worth anything at all, the cartoons that were formerly on the FAIR web site were drawn by one of the founders of FAIR who is no longer affiliated with the organization. His rather pugnacious style of apologetics is something the rest of FAIR's volunteers reject, and I believe FAIR's web site and wiki reflect that current stance.

People such as John Dehlin with his Mormon Stories are providing a new dialogue that needs to exist.

While John's heart is in the right place, there are some serious problems with his approach. He gives critics of the Church a forum without asking them difficult questions that challenge their criticisms (his interview with Grant Palmer is only one example of this). John likes to ask questions, but he's not quite as good at providing answers that address the complexity of Church history, doctrine, and culture. While his web site may be beneficial to a handful of people, there are many, many more whose faith has been weakened by his approach.

mormonstories said...

What Mike says might be true. I definitely worry that some people's faith might be weakened by a more open, candid discussion of Mormonism (which I try to facilitate).

Also, it's true that perhaps I could have been harder on Grant Palmer, but I also could have been much harder on Darius Gray/Margaret Young or John Lynch (FAIR Board Member). I try to let my guests tell their stories, and to get out of the way. I wish FAIR would provide a podcast.

I CAN say that I get 2-3 emails a week from people I've helped, for what it's worth.

Let me share my most recent email (just received today)...

"John,

I encountered a ‘crisis of faith similar to yours (running up against real church history with a ‘correlated belief system’) about 2 years ago. It very nearly cost me my marriage and my [children].... I was nearly rendered a disposable human being for simply having an intellectual epiphany. For a short amount of time ... I considered suicide as an option. Thankfully I abandoned this idea and have been struggling to find my ‘place’ in the church since then (I still participate for the sake of familial stability). Your podcasts have literally been a godsend to me. I have been listening to them for several months now and they have brought tears to my eyes on many occasions. Thank you, thank you for your tireless efforts in trying to introduce an element of humanity to the wide range of diverse thought that runs through Mormon culture. Though I know that I will always be on the fringe in the faith of my origin, I take comfort in the fact that others – like you – are actively working to find ways to reconcile the chasm that separate the faithful from the skeptic."

I acknowledge that my approach is not what most LDS folk need. That said, I think that there is an undeniable need for what I'm trying to provide--candid, open, honest discourse, and an understanding ear/forum. I do fall short often.

I agree that I don't provide many answers. I guess I wish that the church would step up to do that, though I think I understand why they choose not to (in many cases). I don't think they HAVE answers to most of the major challenges, and when they've tried to provide answers in the past, it's often come back to bite them.

I do continue to maintain the position that bad answers are MUCH worse than no answers, for what it's worth. Sometimes FAIR is helpful. Sometimes FAIR drives people into anti-Mormon camps (from the many people I've spoken with personally).

Walekr said...

"I do continue to maintain the position that bad answers are MUCH worse than no answers, for what it's worth"

Hear, hear. I do too. I have done my lion's share of research in Mormon documents and have had to walk the ever-so-thin tightrope between excessive candor (just because something is true doesn't mean it's useful--a quote from Benjamin Franklin BTW) and excessive shielding. I've had my testimony wavering experiences as well--not fun. But as Elder Holland said, our covenants are more powerful than temptation--that involves secular learning as well.

The best approach I have seen is to tell the story of the documents--let them speak for themselves as much as possible. Even better, I never assume ill-intent on the part of any figure unless the evidence demands it (I have a hard time giving Stalin the benefit of the doubt). Sometimes the documents have said things I don't want to hear. HOwever, they have never permanently affected my testimony of Jesus Christ (and I have yet to attend a testimony meeting in my adult life where Christ is not the central theme of individuals' testimonies), Joseph's prophetic mantle, and this church's role as the Christ's church.

Mike Parker said...

John D. wrote: I do continue to maintain the position that bad answers are MUCH worse than no answers, for what it's worth. Sometimes FAIR is helpful. Sometimes FAIR drives people into anti-Mormon camps (from the many people I've spoken with personally).

Yes, but better than bad answers or no answers are good answers, and that is what FAIR is striving for. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fall short and need to improve, but always we are looking for answers, not just more questions.

While "letting people tell their own stories" sounds admirable, it assumes that everyone has an equally valid point of view that is beneficial to all who come to hear. Grant Palmer's point of view is not a good one. He abuses and misuses historical sources and draws bad conclusions that appeal to those who have lost their faith in the Book of Mormon and are looking for a coherent way of tossing their faith without feeling guilty about it.

This would all be less of a problem if the topic at hand were gardening, or poetry, or architecture, where one person's opinion about what is aesthetically pleasing were just as valid as another's. But the subject is Mormonism's claim to be the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and whether that claim is true or false. To give Grant Palmer — or Tal Bachman, or John Lynch, or anyone else — a pass in the name of letting him "tell his own story" does injustice to the Book of Mormon that he surreptitiously attacks.

John says that he receives many email messages supporting his site and criticizing FAIR. Being privy to FAIR's inbox, I can say that we receive many messages thanking us for helping people shore up their foundering testimonies or deal with anti-Mormon criticisms that are dragging a family member out of the Church.

In my 7 years of experience with FAIR, I have seen that those who claim FAIR has "driven them into anti-Mormon camps" invariably do so without dealing with the evidence FAIR presents. FAIR becomes a convenient scapegoat when they have already decided against the restored gospel and need to point a finger of blame rather than accept responsibility for their own loss of faith.

Daniel Peterson said...

I've always been interested in the claim that FAIR (or FARMS) has been the final straw in someone's loss of testimony or the catalyst for someone's leaving the Church.

I've seen the claim with some regularity, but I've never really seen the argument or analysis that would flesh it out. So it's difficult to know just what to make of it.

On the other hand, I've several times seen summaries of positions that have been advocated on FAIR or (much more commonly) that have appeared in publications from FARMS (typically in the FARMS Review) that are, in my view, substantially inaccurate, even caricatures. For this reason, while I don't think it impossible that reading FAIR or FARMS might play a role in someone's apostasy, I'm inclined to think that, in a large proportion of such cases, what's really involved is a misreading. I've been quite astonished, sometimes, at the creative ways in which passages or positions that seem crystal clear to me can be spectacularly misinterpreted. (Tal Bachman, to choose a particularly egregious example, has raised this to an art form.)

Bookslinger said...

Mormonstories:

I was misled by your web site. Your web site isn't so much about publishing the truth of misunderstood or misrepresented doctrines or history, as it is about telling people who've lost their testimony "It's okay to stay in the church without a testimony."

Your lukewarm, or often absent, defense of the church, the gospel and the prophets, is not conducive to promulgating knowledge of the historical or evidentiary facts nor is it reinforcing spiritual testimonies.

At first, I was attracted to what you had to say because we had somewhat similar mission experiences. Though I grant yours was worse than mine in terms of being disillusioned with leadership.

And I do admire your courage for contacting higher-ups and reporting what was going on out there in the trenches.

But instead of finding answers or explanations to either real problems or seeming problems, you're position is more along the lines of "Yeah, the church was/is wrong/bad on certain issues, and you don't have to believe everything, but you can stay a Mormon anyway."

That may be fine for people who are no longer open to faithful viewpoints, but it appears to me to be very detrimental to those whose testimonies have been challenged, who have not made up their minds yet, and want to hear the faithful response to the critics on those issues.

In my opinion, you go too far in agreeing with and validating the position of the critics and apostates (whether they stay in the church or leave).

I have no problem in acknowledging that there have existed, and do exist, things that challenge people's testimonies. There are warts in the history, and there are individual errors. The church never was and is not "perfect."

But you're enabling more than solving. You're encouraging people to live with their misunderstanding of those challenges rather than focusing on overcoming those challenges.

Sure, your approach is fine for those who don't want to change their understanding and learn more. But your web site "suckers in" those who are searching for real answers. And your web site basically says there are no valid counter-points, that the critics are right, but that it's still okay to be Mormon.

You're trying to assuage the bitter feelings of those who've already jumped over to the other side and closed their mind. But the unintended consquence is that you're probably pushing over (to the wrong side) a lot of fence-sitters who are still seeking answers.

And your web site doesn't make clear up front which group you're trying to cater to. If you're trying to make apostates feel better, or less bitter, fine. But be up front about it, and send the open-minded people who want to hear faithful responses to the issues somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Dan Peterson writes
"I've been quite astonished, sometimes, at the creative ways in which passages or positions that seem crystal clear to me can be spectacularly misinterpreted. (Tal Bachman, to choose a particularly egregious example, has raised this to an art form.)"

And could you give us a few examples of this instead of just making blanket statements that infer that all those that have questioned the church are just idiots. I do understand that both sides often take pot shots at each other but this does nothing constructive. Since mormonism is a religion it is essentially faith based. You can not prove it true and you may not be able to prove it false either. So most things dealing with the church are only the opinions and interpetations of those holding them.

mormonstories said...

DP--I am totally in agreement with you that relying on emails or other random data points are ultimately inconclusive. In my mind, even though I have had some (many even) people tell me that apologetics ultimately broke their camel's back (so to speak)....I agree with you that we don't really know for sure the true root cause. Point taken.

Bookslinger--I totally hear where you are coming from, and actually respect your concerns/approach. I think/worry about them a lot. I know up front that my site and podcast are not for everyone, and that there is a risk that I might damage some faith. At the same time, there are hundreds or thousands who are leaving the church, or who have left, that can benefit from some of the things I'm trying to say and do (I sincerely believe this to be true, and can put you in touch with some of those I've helped to come back to church, if you'd like. I can provide phone numbers and everything). While you may worry that I'm doing them a disservice (and I'm not saying I know that you're wrong)....they seem to think that I've really helped them, and in many cases have become reactivated after long inactivity.

I kinda compare it to "leaving the 99 to go get the 1"...but I'm sure it's an imperfect comparison. And I do wish that I could limit who has access to my site...while still allowing for broad exposure.

Finally, it's true that my testimony is much less literal and absolute than yours, or even than mine used to be...but I have to feel that God would rather have us partly engaged, than not at all (despite the hot/cold/luke warm/spew verse in the scriptures)--and that at the end of the day, the term "faith" (or hoping/believing without knowing) is a broad enough umbrella to allow for even widely divergent interpretations of truth and/or testimony.

But I admit I could be wrong, and I respect you taking the time to share your concerns with me.

P.S. Since so much doctrine and policy and teachings have changed over the past 150+ years, isn't it allowable/reasonable for us to not believe everything? Especially when there isn't even a difinitive source for clearly stated church doctrine?

AlexG said...

The kind of dialogue that happens at Mormon stories is not for everyone. It is not apologetic nor critical. In my mind, provides a place in which people can share their part without being bullied, i.e., shot down before he can speak. I can remember a podcast with one of the responsibles with the site 'Josephlied.com' that I found intersting. Not his arguments, though, but the possibility that we can see critics past the 'your an anti' stance. It would be intersting to foster some good dialogue such as the Blomberg-Robison.

There is a greater need to explore what we believe, without the 'correlation' and sanitation. As Davis Bitton, former assistant Church historian, has stated, we need more 'good history' not necessarily history that makes us look good. Cases like dear Paul H. Dunn do not help. There is a work in progress of John, Black and the Priesthood, that could be the a bridge of understanding. This dialogue is much needed at Church. I like the openess to discuss thorny issues, such as the abovementioned one. The openess is what I like about John, not necessarily the topics or authors that he chooses. But then again, I like the forum for ideas to be stated. The future of apologetics relies less on point to point rebuttal and ad hominem attacks (which are present in many unfortunate cases at FAIR's documents) and more a declaration of what we believe and why. That would be a better choice for apologetics.

I recognise that this is not my blog, but I would like to hear what people such as Jeff, Dan Peterson and others have to say to this.

Daniel Peterson said...

Anonymous: "And could you give us a few examples of this instead of just making blanket statements that infer that all those that have questioned the church are just idiots."

Happily.

But, first, please do not confuse infer with imply.

Now that we have that crucial distinction clear, permit me to point out that I did not imply "that all those that have questioned the church are just idiots." You inferred that I did, and you inferred incorrectly. I made no such blanket statement. I hold no such view.

At your request, I'll choose two related claims about me that have been repeatedly advanced (in forums on which I am not permitted to respond) by Tal Bachman: First, he alleges that I have somehow allegorized or spiritualized the historical claims of Mormonism in such a way that they cannot be falsified (apparently even in principle) and do not belong to real, concrete, empirical, factual reality. Second, he alleges that I am in thrall to postmodern theorists who disdain reality and make everything subjective.

Both claims are utterly false. On the whole, I have no use whatever for postmodernism. And I most definitely do believe that the foundational events of Mormonism occurred in the real, empirical world.

Anonymous: "Since mormonism is a religion it is essentially faith based. You can not prove it true and you may not be able to prove it false either. So most things dealing with the church are only the opinions and interpetations of those holding them.

Mutatis mutandis, pretty much the same is true, to a considerable extent, in large areas of scholarly and other human endeavor (e.g., in psychology, literary criticism, economics, history, archaeology, politics, philosophy, etc.). But that doesn't mean that all opinions and interpretations are of equal merit. There are standards -- often quite rough and sometimes very debatable, it's true -- that permit us to distinguish degrees of adequacy and plausibility. It isn't all just relative. (That's the position, as a matter of fact, that Tal Bachman attributes to me, but I emphatically reject it -- and have done so repeatedly. He knows better. Or, anyway, he would know better if he deigned to pay attention to what his targets actually say.)
 

Walker said...

My question is:

Of what use is this "cultural Mormon" paradigm? As Dan has pointed out (and I have had inklings towards), it will no do us no good whatsoever to deny reality exists. If so, mormonism simply becomes another candy in the candy store of superstition. All equally ill-nourishing.

I suppose if one chooses to live life that way, that is fine. However, the irony is that it justifies individuals in being provinicial. One can argue as one will (this is especially true in the feminist literary circles) and have the ready escape route of "well, nothing's true anyway, so we might as well believe in whatever is most congenial to one's personal interests."

Again, to paraphrase Franklin: A truth is not always a useful truth.

Mike Parker said...

AlexG: The future of apologetics relies less on point to point rebuttal and ad hominem attacks (which are present in many unfortunate cases at FAIR's documents) and more a declaration of what we believe and why.

The charge that FARMS and FAIR are advancing ad hominem attacks against critics of the Church is frequently made, but seldom demonstrated.

If you can give me one example, Alex, of an ad hominem attack on the FAIR web site or the FAIR wiki, I will do everything in my power to have it removed.

But I suspect finding the example will be much, much harder than making the claim.

Mormanity said...

The future of apologetics relies less on point to point rebuttal and ad hominem attacks . . . and more a declaration of what we believe and why. That would be a better choice for apologetics.

Seems like it's a choice that most LDS apologists made long ago. Explaining what we believe and why is a big part of most apologetics work. But to explain why one believes something often cannot be adequately done without a reference to the intellectual and spiritual landscape we are in, and that include confronting the obvious presence of alternate views and theories. How can I explain why I believe in photons without addressing the limitations of alternate theories on the nature of light?

AlexG said...

Mike:

I would point out this article from Louis Midgley "Prying into Palmer" found in FARMS review. When I read it, I found it via FAIR web-site. I take your point readily, and if I have caused any offense, I apologise sincerely. It sometimes frustrates me the level of 'shouting'. Yet this might be a case of causing a tempest over a teapot. If that is the case, I stand corrected, and hope I do not engender any hurt feelings on you or anyone else.

Kind regards.

Mike Parker said...

Alex:

I took no offense at what you wrote. I have seen much, much worse written about FAIR.

You were simply repeating what has become something of a popular belief among many people, both inside and outside of the Church. With a few exceptions, it is simply false, and I try, where I can, to challenge that false notion. Virtually everyone whom I have asked to provide evidence of ad hominem arguments advanced by FAIR has simply ignored me and continued to repeat the claim.

Are there LDS apologists who rely on ad hominem arguments? Certainly. I can think of several off the top of my head, one of whom runs a fairly well-known web site. But FAIR has taken great pains over the last five years to distance itself from those types of people.

As far as Lou Midgley's review of Grant Palmer goes, those who would claim it is ad hominem clearly don't know the definition of the term. The very title of Palmer's book attempted to give him special authority in the eyes of the reader because he was an "insider" — Midgley sought to demonstrate, in painstaking detail, that Palmer was nothing of the sort. Midgley's review was relevant to Palmer's claims, and therefore was not ad hominem.

(See definitions here and here.)