Guest Post: Why I Find Developments at the Maxwell Institute Concerning

[A guest post by Professor David Earl Bohn, retired professor of political philosophy at Brigham Young University]

Recently, the Maxwell Institute announced a significant change of course on its website—one that re-directs the Institute’s focus away from apologetics and Mormon-centered research and toward a more generic emphasis on religious scholarship. The “bloggernacle” had actually been abuzz about rumors of  these developments since before they were officially confirmed. (For a non-exhaustive sample of related posts and articles see: hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere, and here).

Cause for Concern

Many of us who care deeply about Mormon research and scholarship have witnessed these developments unfold with some concern.  The character of these changes and the actual manner in which they have been carried out thus far have raised serious questions about whether the very raison d’être of the Maxwell Institute, including the significant achievements of the Mormon Studies Review (and its predecessor), are not being undermined or even abandoned.

Over time, all institutions necessarily undergo “a change of guard.” For organizations that have clear mandates such as the Maxwell Institute and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (or “FARMS”)—which came under the Institute’s umbrella in 1997—this transition might be expected to bring differences of style and manner, along with some new ideas and approaches. However, the changes at the Institute seem to involve considerably more than this, including the unexpected and awkwardly handled removal of key Institute figures who played a central role in establishing FARMS and carrying on the thrust of the Institute’s academic and scholarly work—among them Professor Dan Peterson, then-Editor of the Mormon Studies Review and Director of Advancement at the Institute.

Attempts to Explain These Developments

To explain these developments, the media and others have focused on Peterson’s criticisms of John Dehlin (a Latter-day Saint involved in numerous Mormon-related projects) and a review critical of Dehlin’s work that was set to appear in an upcoming edition of the Mormon Studies Review but scrapped, reportedly due to an end-run Dehlin made to a General Authority.

I am not very familiar with Dehlin or his work nor have I read the critical review in question, but, from my own experience, I do not think they are the central issue here. As Professor Bill Hamblin has pointed out elsewhere, this is actually the latest flare up in a long-running debate between people who hold very different views about the mission of the Maxwell Institute and how it can most effectively be served. In pointing this out, I do not wish to depreciate any of the principals, who are no doubt good people pursuing what in their judgment represents the best interest of the Institute. Nevertheless, I suspect that the heart of this debate centers more specifically on the disregard some at the Institute have for scholarly apologetics. While this bias is not unusual among academics, it actually belongs to a philosophical position that has fallen on hard times.

The Larger Issue

It is important to understand that for some, scholarly apologetics is an oxymoron that violates their deepest epistemological convictions—convictions predicated on a near ideological adherence to the “fact/value distinction.” This view holds that in scholarly research, the maintenance of a posture of unwavering neutrality is imperative in order to achieve intellectual objectivity. It insists that, undistorted by human values or preferences, research is only then able to reveal relevant facts in their true nature, “as they are in themselves.” Not surprisingly, those who hold this view consider the business of apologetics as something of secondary importance, at best, to be carried on separately, lest it contaminate the larger process of discovering “objective truth.”

Arguments based on methodological claims that value free research, neutrality and objectivity, harbor an unjustified, and in some respects disabling, prejudice of their own. For well over a century, such claims have been under attack and, epistemologically speaking, all but abandoned as a philosophically defensible. In fairness some of these tenets continue to be popular on practical grounds, and the research protocols they authorize have no doubt proven useful. The bottom line, however, is that the most effective scholars realize that all research is preconditioned and necessarily led by key values and basic commitments.

Although I have only managed to provide a brief gloss here on what is a very complex issue, I think it can assist in better situating our understanding of the events underway at the Institute. It should be noted that a neutralist’s methodological stance offers a variety of possible positions:

  • some might take a softer posture, recognizing that complete “neutrality” is never truly an option but a worthy ideal;
  • others might hold that because the prejudice which enshrines neutrality is so wide spread among researchers, the work at the Institute will only gain currency if its framing language reflects such an objectivist bias—if only as an operating necessity; while
  • most might argue that, without being disingenuous, adopting elements of the well-mannered idiom associated with the neutralist’s position has the advantage of reducing the edge of exchanges with those somewhat antagonistic to Mormonism, while still gaining the respect of fellow academics and the broader non-Mormon readership.

It is easy to see how those who see the primary task of the Maxwell Institute in general, and the Mormon Studies Review in particular, to be the spirited and rigorous defense of the Mormon faith would consider a retreat to a “value free,” or “neutral” form of research to be a disengagement from what is most central. Such a shift could leave many everyday members confused in the wake of unjustified claims made about the Church and its history by normal scholars and the far more lethal onslaught from anti-Mormon groups.

Dan Peterson

Peterson’s approach to scholarly apologetics may not be for everyone, particularly since his writing can occasionally have an edge to it.  But Peterson, whom I know and respect, is an honest and dedicated academic who engages in high-quality scholarship focused on defending the foundations of the Church and its beliefs.  I cannot help but believe that Peterson’s limitless energy and clear integrity will be sorely missed in his former capacities at the Institute.  The same can be said of people like Jack Welch, Louis Midgley, Bill Hamblin, George Mitton and others who have either been dismissed or marginalized as a result of changes presently occurring at the Institute

Moving Forward

Whatever eventually happens with the Institute, it is crucial that the issues covered under its mandate be dealt with by scholars who without embarrassment are fully engaged, spiritually and intellectually, in increasing both our knowledge and understanding of the Mormon faith and standing up in its defense.  It would be a terrible loss if the Institute’s mission were reduced to only a “safe” and narrowly defined program involving the digitalization and study of ancient texts, however otherwise beneficial these efforts may be. Ironically, even such a limited agenda could not escape the shadow of apologia since there is no objectivist foundation on which to ground the exegetical method or establish an unconditioned hermeneutic from which to begin.

To be sure, the malevolent attacks made on the Church by some of its sectarian and secular detractors should not stand as a legitimate exemplar of apologetic posture.  The work conducted by the Institute (and everywhere else) should be conducted in an inclusive, generous and kind manner—as an expression of the Gospel where service, not winning, is the real goal.  The goal of an honest apologia should be to expose the failures in the dishonest, misguided, or simply mistaken efforts of others through a high-minded, intellectual and spiritually-guided response; one that is able to draw the honest reader to a more secure ground without neglecting consideration of areas where we too have progress to make.  It is this aim that distinguishes the very best work done at the Institute from the work of those who would attack, either explicitly or implicitly, what we as a Church hold sacred.  All of us who value this approach can hope that the present attempt to create an alternative mission for the Maxwell Institute, one that neglects the reason for its very existence, will be reconsidered.

112 comments for “Guest Post: Why I Find Developments at the Maxwell Institute Concerning

  1. Professor Bohn, as someone who has been a reader of FARMS publications for many years, and has found them to be both intellectually stimulatinig and faith affirming, I very much share your concerns.

    If some of the folks at the MI want to add another feature to its activities, something that they perceive has value in the world of academic scholarship, that is fine by me, but I believe there is a really strong need in the Church for the traditional products of FARMS, especially as the Brethren have enlisted the Latter-day Saints in engaging in public fora where our Church and beliefs are being discussed and often attacked.

    Worst of all, it seems to communicate the meta-message that BYU does not think it is important to apply the tools of scholarship, which it develops through the application of tithing funds, to defend the beliefs of Mormons.

  2. Dr. Bohn, a couple of brief observations on the problems of FARMS from the perspective of a non-believing Mormon if I may.

    I think that the main problem is that traditional Mormon apologetics failed for two main reasons

    1) Its approach to the question of BOM historicity only focused on the question of how could have Joseph Smith written the Book of Mormon rather than the question of what evidence supports the idea of BOM antiquity. The few articles that did try to support the BOM with archaeological evidence were weak and couldn’t stand a chance if they were reviewed by any panel of the leading non-LDS archaeologists. In some ways the approach seemed akin to that employed by 9/11 conspiracy theorists who only focus on how it would have been impossible according to their understanding of the laws of physics for the twin towers to have collapsed only as a result of fire and structural damage. They then assume that since the official explanation is impossible that the government must by implication be guilty of planning the attacks. But poking holes in the available evidence doesn’t prove government involvement. And in like manner, poking holes in arguments in favor of a 19th century BOM does not prove by implication that it is an ancient text.

    2) It ruthlessly criticized fellow LDS whose goals were not necessarily attack the church but merely try to understand it in a different light. These include Grant Palmer, Rod Meldrum, and John Dehlin (had he not made an appeal to a GA to intervene). I thought these attacks were unbecoming for an institution that was indirectly supported by tithing (since it was supported by tithing-funded BYU).

  3. Steve, I see two problems with your two reasons for the failure of traditional Mormon apologetics:

    1) The Institute (and FARMS before it) addressed BOM historicity from an ancient evidence point of voice many, many times. Yes, it addressed 19th century BOM, but I would dare say that the majority of the BOM articles from the Institute and FARMS were about some aspect that relates from ancient times. The name was Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. (I would note here that the new “direction” of the Institute seems to want to solely focus on 19th century Mormonism, at the exclusion of antiquity.)

    2) I object that it “ruthlessly” criticized anyone. Yes, it picked apart critics’ arguments with a very fine-toothed comb. But isn’t that what a scholar-level approach to apologetics should do? I also think the Institute has given some voice to alternative theories (indeed, solely by addressing them), while still maintaining firm support for the Brethren’s official stance.

  4. I have hoped not to get into this fracas, particularly since the principles are people I count as friends.

    But I’m going to make an exception to point out that what happened is not a change “that re-directs the Institute’s focus away from apologetics and Mormon-centered research and toward a more generic emphasis on religious scholarship.” Reading the Institute’s announcement ( shows that this is not announced as a change in the Institute’s mission or focus.

    Instead it is a change in one of the Institute’s publications. The announcement says that the change is to help the Institute to “align its work with the academy’s highest objectives and standards.” Lots of people are reading the tea leaves to figure out what that means, some with unjustified glee, others with self-righteous indignation.

    The truth, however, is that no one knows exactly why Dan was let go as editor. All reasons are conjectural, even if there is evidence to support them. But whatever we might be able to reasonably conjecture about the Institute asking Dan to step down, everything everyone is saying about what the Mormon Studies Review will now become is complete conjecture without the benefit of any facts at all. The announcement of the change is sufficiently vague that it could portend a completely new kind of journal or one with only a minor change in emphasis.

    Lots of people are using this event to leverage their particular position within Mormon intellectual discussions, but that’s what most of what is going on amounts to, political spin (spinning a lever!).

    I suggest that we wait and see before we jump on any bandwagons.

  5. The Institute continues their announcement, “Our areas of endeavor include the study of LDS scripture and other religious texts and related fields of religious scholarship, including the burgeoning field of Mormon studies.”

    No direct mention of apologetics or antiquity.

    (By the way, there is good evidence of why Dan was let go, via the emails which have been unfortunately leaked from Bradford and Peterson’s exchanges on anti-Mormon boards, which Peterson has at least half-heartedly confirmed as accurate. If genuine, the reason was to change the “direction” of the Institute from what Dan was doing, to a “Mormon Studies” focus, something which Bradford didn’t feel would be appropriate for Peterson to undertake given his experience and interest. Until we hear about the full “prospectus” written up by Bradford, we won’t know what else Bradford had in store for the Institute.)

  6. Clarification: Bradford and Peterson’s emails to each other were leaked on anti-Mormon message boards. They do not personally have exchanges there. :)

  7. Bryce, I’ve heard repeatedly from Hugh Nibley and many leading apologists the admission that the BOM’s antiquity is difficult to prove. Therefore their objective has been simply to find lots of loose parallels between the BOM and ancient cultures to merely give support for the argument that JS couldn’t have written it. Virtually all archaeological research for the BOM that you refer to is sort of a parallelomania approach. But the parallels are very loose and scattered and no slam dunk evidence for an ancient BOM has been found. The apologists know this, and that is why they stick to the mission of not trying to find unassailable proof of antiquity, but just cast doubt on all claims of its 19th century origins. Ultimately it seems that most apologists at some point just concede that the BOM’s antiquity can really only be established through prayer. If someone wants to believe the historicity of the BOM on those grounds I don’t have a problem with it. But in academia, prayer is considered too subjective of a method.

    It seems that ultimately LDS apologia can’t be an objective scholarly approach since it will not entertain any hypotheses that do not appear in harmony with Brethren’s official stance. And if the archaeological studies that suggest the BOM’s antiquity are so good, then how come they aren’t gaining any traction in secular academia? It seems that the ancient BOM needs a lot more evidence to be able to effectively compete in that realm.

  8. I must agree with Raymond. I am pleased to see that the Maxwell Institute is planning on broadening their horizons and adding another important dimension of religious scholarship to their work, one that is focused more on simply generic religious scholarship. I think this is something we sorely need more of, particularly from a Mormon perspective.
    However, I also think the Maxwell Institute made a big mistake in getting rid of Peterson and the others you mentioned. While I often find Peterson’s approach, and the FARMS approach in general, to be somewhat unsatsifying and occasionally distasteful for me personally at this point in my life, there was a time when their work was invaluable for me, in helping me deal with certain concerns I have. At the very least, they do their best to come up with convincing arguments (admittedly, sometimes they fail) that are often of great help to those with questions regarding their faith.
    In a way, they could be compared to a criminal trial. The role of a lawyer is not to convince the judge of their own views. Often, a defence attorney will personally think that it is likely that the defendant is guilty. His job is not to tell the judge that. His job is to try and scrounge together the best evidence and make the best case he can for the defence. Same deal with the prosecutor. This enables the judge to then evaluate the evidence and decide which is more convincing.
    I see Peterson and FARMS as being somewhat equivalent to the LDS Church’s ‘defence lawyer’. Not because they have doubts about the church’s claims, but because I don’t see their role as being the same as that of a regular scholar. They are given a position to try and defend. Their role (like that of an attorney) is not to discover the truth. That is for people on faith journeys to do. It is merely to scrounge together the best evidence they can, and come up with the best case possible. Similarly, I believe anti-mormon writers have a responsibility to scrounge together the best evidence they can, and come up with the best case possible to support their position. It is then for us to act as the judge, evaluate the arguments, and come to a conclusion ourselves.
    So perhaps what FARMS does cannot really be classified as objective scholarship. Perhaps it is really closer to advocacy. But I don’t see this as a bad thing. The more arguments laid before us, the more likely it is that we will come to the truth. If there are genuinely strong arguments that never see the light of day because no-one is willing to advocate them, then our conclusions will be lacking key information, and thus will be less reliable.

  9. Steve, what’s hard to give evidence for is archaeology and perhaps geography (in terms of artifacts and sites), but not antiquity. Let’s be clear. There are mountains of evidence for an ancient origin of the BOM in language, literary studies, cultures, authorship, Hebraic names, customs, practices, word patterns, and even parallelistic book construction and composition from similar time periods, etc.

    I suppose you could make a case for unfaithful/uncorrelatetd/in-active LDS apologia, but otherwise a defense of Mormonism will likely take the same view as from the podium in the Conference Center. You can’t be apologetic (in the sense of defending) and fully objective and neutral at the same time, as Bohn points out so clearly. Unless there is a position to defend, there is no apologia.

  10. I find it unnecessary to read the Maxwell Institute’s recent iteration of its purpose to exclude the sort of honest work that Dr. Bohn thinks it should do (i.e., to expose the failures in dishonest or misguided efforts, by drawing the reader to a more secure ground). Rather, what the statement seems to preclude is that obnoxious sort of publication whose main point is not to teach and edify, but to simply prove the incorrectness of an opponent.
    In my opinion, the person who is upset that the Church of Jesus Christ’s flagship university would try and get away from that sort of SWAT-style publication, is probably the same type of person who loved so-called “scripture-bashing” on his mission.

  11. Jim F., I have solid and direct reason to believe that the new direction being charted by the Institute omits anything that most Latter-day Saints would recognize as apologetics. (If that isn’t the case, then I’m at a loss to see precisely where my position and Jerry Bradford’s clashed, and why some sort of emergency intervention was thought so necessary that it had to be carried out suddenly, mid-volume, and at the virtually certain risk of alienating supporters and major donors and of subjecting me, personally, to extraordinary, massive, personal defamation and humiliation across the Internet. After all, I’m not the least bit opposed to Mormon studies. Quite the contrary.) And, at a very minimum, there is the incontrovertible fact that the Review, which has long represented the Institute’s apologetic aspect at its most explicit, has been put on indefinite hiatus. Given that the Institute’s publication of books has dwindled to virtually nothing, it’s difficult to see exactly where the “new course’s” apologetics efforts are going to appear, now that the Review is gone.

    (Note: I’m currently in Austria, and will be out of the States for the next three weeks or so, with only sporadic and sometimes expensive access to the Internet, so I’m unlikely to be able to participated in any sustained conversation, here or elsewhere, online.)

  12. @ Bryce Haymond,
    Be fair. There are not “mountains of evidence for an ancient origin of the BOM in language, literary studies, cultures, authorship, Hebraic names, customs, practices, word patterns, and even parallelistic book construction and composition from similar time periods, etc.”___ that is accepted outside of the Mormon Church. That is not because they are all “Anti-Mormon”. It’s because it’s not good evident.

  13. I heartily agree with themormonbrit at post #8. There is a tremendous need for the elements of real debate from a variety of points of view, not the sterile presentation of only one view. The evangelical duo, Owen & Mosser, took a close look at FARMS several years ago and concluded that FARMS did a very creditable job of defense, and that their evangelical opponents were actually losing the debate. Now that FARMS no longer exists, and now that the apologetic effort at the Maxwell Institute may be muted at best, one has to wonder whether the newly created vacuum best serves the larger community of interested parties.
    Of course Steve Smith is quite wrong on several counts: (1) FARMS has always employed the best in ancient Near Eastern studies and Mesoamerican studies by first rate archeologists and anthropologists to explore the nature of the Book of Mormon; (2) non-Mormon scholars can hardly be expected to suddenly abandon their a priori views and to actually give credence to legitimate Mormon claims — which might prove to be a career-ending move at worst, and a potential waste of precious time at best — so why bother? and (3) FARMS never attempted to quash opposing points of view.
    As to Church tithing funds: All the more reason for such an organization to be independent and self-supporting, as FARMS was in the beginning anyhow.

  14. @Bob, certainly. Just as all scholarship outside of the Mormon Church is not accepted by all scholars outside of the Mormon Church. Just because it is labeled “scholarship” doesn’t mean it will be accepted, whether in the Church or out, or that it will even be better accepted by anyone. Plenty of scholars in many disciplines have had their work utterly rejected by their contemporaries, only later to become the very foundation for their own later theories. The quality or truthfulness of scholarship cannot be judged solely based on whether it is accepted or not in public spaces, or even by specific individuals.

  15. Bryce, the bottom line is that LDS members who experience faith crises are becoming increasing disillusioned with the traditional apologist approach. They just don’t find that it is really answering their questions about historicity precisely because all it offers is a mountain of scattered parallels that supposedly “prove” its antiquity and a lot of words against the 19th century hypothesis, none of which is accepted by any leading non-LDS academics in the whatever field (history, anthropology, archaeology, etc.). This flawed approach has provided the impetus for the change at the MI. My hope is that it is a change that helps people be comfortable with ambiguity and maybe even accept that much of the official LDS doctrine and historical claims are based on pious myths, which have helped create a moral community that is built around many values, but that are myths nonetheless. But as Dan Peterson suggests in 11, this may spell the end of institutionalized Mormon apologetics. I bid it farewell.

  16. Lucy, a non-believing Mormon is someone who is participant in the Mormon church and culture (even to the extent that others around him/her are under the impression that s/he is a regular Mormon), but does not believe the official doctrinal and historical claims of the LDS church. There are many non-believing Mormons who stay in the church for family or other reasons and may not publicly disclose their true beliefs or lack thereof. Many examples of non-believing Mormons are to be found at the StayLDS and Newordermormon forums.

  17. Bob,
    Bryce Hammond is more than fair and quite correct to claim that “there are mountains of evidence for an ancient origin of the BOM,” some of it still unpublished. Good evidence, which is compelling in a systematic way. Not simply vague parallels, as Steve Smith would have it.
    Not that anyone who does not already believe in the Book would bother to take a hard look at that evidence. Inertia is the obstacle which normally prevents many from even considering serious argument for the making of an unsettling “paradigm shift” and all that goes with it.

  18. I understand David Bohn. Scholarship in general does not represent an unassailable uncontested platonic absolute truth, no matter the source from whence it comes. It may be trying to get at the truth, from many different angles, but it can’t quite reach that destination, ever. How close it gets is entirely subjective in each person absorbing it, depending on their experience and resulting perspective.

    Truth is like an opaque cloth bag with an object inside, but no opening. You can poke, prod, twist, squeeze, kick, hike, spin, sit on, stretch, slam, or feel it through the bag for eternity, but you won’t know for certain what is inside that bag until you take it out, or ask who put it in there (which still involves some doubt, because now you must judge that individual). You may have an excellent idea, but no certainty. What is its color, for example? No one will ever know, while its still inside the bag.

    In terms of religion, I would argue that God is inside the bag, and in Mormon-speak that bag’s the veil. He may also have been the one that put Himself there, or know who did. And this for a reason, perhaps only He knows (another bag). Some day the veil will drop, and we will Know Him.

    Alethiology, or the study of the nature of truth (related to epistemology, the study of knowledge its acquisition), would be a good topic to bring up in these discussions. How do we come to a knowledge of truth, in whatever degree? Scholarship certainly helps, but is not an end all. It provides evidence, up for the taking in a never-ending discussion and debate to determine its truthfulness.

    Of course, some “truth” is more simple than other truth. The fact that I drove a car to work today is pretty incontestable, you’d think. But was it really a “car”? Can a rusted out 1993 Honda Civic with malfunctioning speedometer, odometer, A/C, radio, steering fuel leak, and tail lights still be considered an automobile? Is what I do at “work” really work, or is it unrelated blogging on an online Mormon forum?

    This is part of the reason I’ve stopped blogging, as of recent. Too distracting from the truth in my work, but often worth it for the truth in the subject matter. Which is more true? Which should be true? Which would I like to be true?

    Back to work…

  19. Statements like this “… of subjecting me, personally, to extraordinary, massive, personal defamation and humiliation across the Internet”

    are the kind of exaggerated statements that make me glad what happened, happened.

  20. To clarify, my post was not meant as glad for any humiliation experienced by Dan Peterson personally. I don’t know him but I hope his humiliation is brief and fleeting.

    It was meant, however, to show that I am glad his style of writing will be less likely to be associated with Mormonism in the future.

  21. Personally I think it is by it’s very nature impossible for non-Mormon scholar to argue for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Basically by agreeing with the premise you are saying that an angel gave a book to a 17 year old kid instead of some archaeologist digging it up.

    Truth is even biblical research is fought over this issue constantly and it has at least come in a more “normal” fashion. The idea that Joseph met Moroni and got the plates will always make proving almost impossible. Because then you run into beliefs instead of science.

  22. Steve Smith: I believe that Jon W. is correct that a non-Mormon scholar could not, in principle, argue for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Disciplines like history, archaeology, New Testament Studies and so forth must assume methodological naturalism as a basis for moving forward and be accepted. But that entails that mere assumptions about what can count as evidence determine what is legitimate evidence. I am in philosophy, and any person who merely assumed methodological naturalism as an aletheaic assumption (represents the truth tout court) would not be taken seriously. It is an open question whether naturalism is a better metaphysic or world-view than other views of truth and other methods of discovering truth. That is why your demand that articles about the Book of Mormon must be acceptable in some non-Mormon peer reviewed journal is simply assuming the outcome without even a hearing or review of what could count as evidence. It also explains, in view, why folks get sucked into an unjust criticism of FARMS scholarship.

    Given methodological naturalism, revelation and God are impossible in principle — unless by “god” you mean someone who just happened to figure out how to control a lot of things and were very smart technologically.

    However, I disagree that there is a “mountain of evidence” to support the Book of Mormon if one means Mesoamerican ruins. There is nothing that can be linked with surety to the Book of Mormon. There is no evidence at all if one means evidence something that is not accepted as compelling by all — which is how I think you use it. But no scientific discipline could proceed on the basis of such incontrovertible evidence because such evidence never exists.

    However, there is strong evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon in my view — though surely not compelling evidence that is incontrovertible. Why isn’t the form of Lehi’s call that conforms to ancient Israelite prophetic call narratives strong evidence of historicity? Why aren’t the repeated covenant renewal gatherings in the Book of Mormon that conform to Jewish ritual forms now recognized by nearly all biblical scholars strong evidence for historicity? Why isn’t the fact that Abinadi’s and Samuel the Lamanite’s “trials” that could be seen as such only with a knowledge of Second Temple Jewish legal procedure strong evidence? Why isn’t the fact that Nahom has been found strong evidence? I could of course go on for a long time.

    I think that the studies pointing out these facets of the Book of Mormon would be acceptable in any non-Mormon scholarly journal if alas they just were not about the Book of Mormon. One cannot assume naturalism and take the Book of Mormon seriously. But if one assume naturalism, an assumption has already predetermined what can count. Who should we proceed with such a reckless assumption?

  23. @ Robert F. Smith,
    If I wanted to make a name for myself in the scientific world, there would be no quicker way than making an unsettling “paradigm shift”. But this has not happened concerning the BoM. Why? Because the Church’s evidence (to those outside the Church) is just not “compelling in a systematic way”.

  24. @ Blake,
    I would want to know how much of this ‘evidence” was already know at the time of the writing of the BoM. Did JS or someone helping him know these things at the time? Are these things spoken of in any of the a alleged source books available to JS?

  25. Blake, the supposed parallels that you suggest between Jewish trials and rituals and those talked of in the Book of Mormon can easily be dismissed as having been a carry-over from Joseph Smith’s exposure to Bible, the narrative and stories of which we know he was well acquainted. At any rate there seems to be a stunning similarity between the methods of argumentation employed by 9/11 conspiracy theorists and the LDS apologists. In both cases scholars start with strong preexisting biases and assumptions and seek only shards of evidence that confirm those while ignoring larger issues. Also they both latch onto seemingly small anomalies, which they blow out of proportion, but then miss the bigger picture. If we are to weigh all of the evidence that supports the BOM as a 19th century text against all of the evidence that supports it as a text that was written somewhere in the American continent, I think that the former would clearly win and that you could easily convince nearly all non-LDS academic audiences of such.

    That said, I think that there are many moral lessons that we can learn in the Book of Mormon and that it has been around that text that a wonderful society has been built. I certainly am happy for those who are deeply inspired by the BOM and its message and would not want to shake someone’s belief in its historicity (although I have been a bit more vocal than I probably should have here). But alas, like the texts of many other religious traditions, I simply can’t accept it for myself as anything other than just another pious myth. A great number of LDS who are active church-goers are in the same boat as me. Just read the stories at the Newordermormon forum.

  26. k so here’s what i would like to know
    why after 23 years is this guy suddenly persona non grata.
    including his 4 sub editors.
    I think BYU owes the public more than just refunding the subscription fees..i.e. a detailed explanation as to what these 5 did wrong.

    conspire to commit the heinous crime of XYZ would be only sufficient to explain the obviously posthaste dismissal of Dr. Peterson.

    if we will have no more apologetics surely the rose will still smell good with another name. Scientific debate of scripture is what it will hopefully be ?????

    on the other hand, will we be able to read Dr. Peterson’s ideas, resulting from his publications in his new capacity ? whatever that might be. Will he remain a mormon …at heart…?

  27. and the other question i have, will Dr. Peterson be dismissed/resign from his post as Professor of Islamic Studies at BYU? as a result of this slightly unusual dismissal from the Maxwell Institute….just pondering…

  28. Also I find it interesting that many of you appeal to a strong postmodernist notion, that nothing can really be known for sure. While I agree that anything is possible, I really do think that some explanations for phenomena in this world are simply more plausible than others.

  29. Steve: I think that your “explanation” for these rather clear forms in the Book of Mormon is not merely lame, but simply failing to account for strong evidence. The problem isn’t with the evidence, it is with your dismissal of it with a really indefensible anally to 9-11 theorists. Really, that is the best you can do?

  30. While related, the question of how convincing FARMS’ work on the historicity of the BoM is, is not the point of the post. I think we’ve said about as much about that as it is worthwhile to say in a post on a different topic. Let’s get back to the subject of the post.

    The heart of the post really is the question of whether neutral scholarship is “the right way” to do scholarship, as opposed to an approach that is has certain commitments presupposed, such as apologetics. David suggests that the decision to fire Dan represents a move away from apologetics and toward an approach to scholarship that tries to be neutral. David then suggests that this is a mistake because scholarly neutrality does not seem to be achievable in practice, or at least if it is, it is not the norm. This is very different from saying we can’t know anything with certainty (which I actually don’t see that anyone has said), and I would have thought it an idea closely related to your own view, Steve. Is there such a thing as perfect objectivity and neutrality with regard to religion? I would think you would say there isn’t. If so, you would be supporting the point of David’s original post.

    We can’t pretend to know with any firmness what the Executive Director intends. However, there are lots of people who would allege that the content of the Review often did not rise to the level of scholarship because of its partisan/apologetic posture. So, it is not strange to suggest that this might be part of the reason.

    Regardless, the Institute has announced that it is going to move in a new direction, but far from announcing just what that direction is, has announced it is assembling a team of scholars to advise them, which suggests that there may be a fair amount yet to be resolved about this new direction.

    So, it is fair and worthwhile to ask the question, if the Review is moving in a new direction, should neutrality regarding religious claims be part of the new style of material it publishes?

  31. btw i have to defend blake and say that freud is bad. also: the BoM is true if Heavenly Father tells you so. there is NO OTHER WAY, no way trying to invent one… sorry….its not about apologetics although I so love apologetics

  32. and…as a last post cause i know it is embarassing and I DO Have other things to do. It is NOT about how effective FARMS was but WHAT THE HECK went wrong to SUDDENLY dismiss FARMS from one day to the next

  33. As an academic and occasional consumer of FARMS/MI-produced materials, I’ve been following along at home with some interest. But I’m really not a Mormon scholar (although I am both Mormon and a scholar), and I have no axe to grind on BYU/MI/MSR/etc’s direction(s).

    But something about the OP bothers me. The dichotomy between “neutral, value-free” research, on the one hand, and apologetics which aims to give a “spirited and rigorous defense of the Mormon faith”, on the other, looks false to me. One has to do with method; the other, aims. A very natural third category is non-value-neutral scholarship — scholarship which takes some group of religious claims as given — and then asks some question other than whether the Mormon faith is right.

    There’s plenty of research that falls in this third category — much of it done by FARMS in the past. It’s the difference between (for instance) faith-based Mesoamerican studies for the purpose of better appreciating the Book of Mormon’s message vs. faith-based Mesoamerican studies for the purpose of digging up stuff Joseph couldn’t have known about and sticking it in the face of the Church’s detractors. FARMS has a history of doing both. If the ‘new direction’ in MI is to keep to the first kind, well, we can have a debate about whether that’s a good idea, but we can’t accuse anyone of having been suckered in by problematic commitments to a ‘value-neutral method’.

  34. Ben Huff raises some provocative questions about what might be the proper approach for a reformulated Mormons Studies Review to take. I am always hopeful that we won’t be bored to tears with whatever is eventually offered to us, and that it will be part of a much broader potpourri of publication from an interesting cross section of opinion. I often think that those who cannot abide cognitive dissonance will stop at nothing to prevent it — including the quashing of legitimate discussion.
    As to the possibility of value neutral research methods, the academy has long sought to achieve that through the inculcation of systematic rules and strong peer review. The late William F. Albright used to brag that, despite coming from every sort of background, his students were quite capable of reaching similar conclusions when given the same data — his students were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and atheist, but were all willing to put their preconceptions aside at least temporarily in order to complete good research designs. Of course one can never put aside his biases completely, but it is remarkable how well Albright’s Baltimore School managed to be so dynamically capable in their work. Rarely going to extremes. Even the Israeli archeological establishment caught the spirit of that effort early on and have never looked back.
    I think warmly of that world, and of how nice it would be if the collegiality of those archeologists (even when in harsh and uncompromising debates) could be reflected in good-natured ribbing, humor, and strong advocacy of very different views within the LDS community. However, just now the only uncompromising thing on the Mormon horizon is venom and contempt.

  35. re: themormonbrit’s comment:
    I am a (retired) California Judge. Having heard thousands of criminal cases, and knowing a judge’s role, may help give a little insight into the discussion. Themormonbrit’s general description of the opposing lawyer’s role is ok, but the critical distinction is that the judge’s role is not to choose the better argument, but rather to determine if there is reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the person charged with the crime. This phrase, reasonable doubt, recognizes that everything in man’s existence is subject to some degree of doubt, and virtually nothing can be established with absolute certainty, so the best that imperfect man can do is to explore all evidence and determine if lingering doubts are “reasonable.” Applying this perspective to the Book of Mormon and it’s claim to be an ancient document: If one removes divine influence from the formula,what is left is the fact that we know little about ancient America (only a small fraction of the known archaelogical sites have been explored), and what we do know is constantly being reevaluated by new evidence. The fact that some serious scholarship has found a relatively few parallels between ancient America and the Book of Mormon narrative, by itsself would probably not be sufficient, in a criminal court, to pronounce the Book of Mormon “guilty” of being authentic ancient scripture.
    There is quite a different standard of proof in civil litigation. There the judge seeks only a “preponderance of evidence” to determine the outcome of an issue (If, on a scale, there are 99 pennies on one side and 100 pennies on the other, the 100 pennies wins). Using that standard, one might consider not only the ancient evidence, but also the seemingly unassailable fact that Joseph Smith, the human, did not have the capacity to create the writ from his own body of knowledge, and no other competent evidence of it’s manner of creation has been presented. By that standard, it is at least arguable that a judge might find in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient document.
    Another posting, from another source, has talked about “knowing” as a concept of the joining of fact with what might be called variously feeling, intuition, heart, or spirit.
    The question that is seemingly facing the Maxwell Institute, in what appears to be a redirection of focus, is whether or not “Knowing,” as described above, has a place in the future of its’ mission. Having read a fair amount of past FARMS literature, it surely had a place there.

  36. @ Robert. Who is producing the venom and contempt. if i had been following this longer I would know. I am really curious though. an unusual situation.Harsh and uncompromising debates can be perfect if they are fact based. I cannot help but wonder, “disregardless” of whether we like the new Mormon Studies Review, how quickly can that new one disappear off the face of the earth, if the wrong person in power, gets the sudden idea to make it disappear. And, is that acceptable in the context of some continuation of ..research …debate etc. I guess it is acceptable since anything in this area of research goes over the same ground continuoulsy (how often do Anti Mormons come up with something new.hardly ever) so the result of the change of personnel might be less significant that some of you predict. Nonetheless, it seems harsh on a personal basis, why not let the man retire from his post in peace. at some point.

  37. Jonathan-great article.the term “salting the mine” comes to mind…surprised that no one has thought of it yet in the Americas to support the BoM. or maybe they have and I am underinformed…

  38. I found something on a discussion board (Mormondiscussions?) where John posted a reference to the article Peterson wrote. It’s a bit confusing, but I think John was upset because he’d heard the article included a claim that John was involved in the death of a fellow missionary. THAT caught me by surprise; I’m not sure what I would have done if somebody accused me of something like that. The comment that had the most impact on me here was Jim F.’s. The circumstances are concerning. I don’t feel good about any of it. This is the link, hope I did it right:

  39. Judge Write,
    The skills and capacities to create of JS are always under review and debate.
    Much competent evidence of it’s manner of creation has been presented by others. (Dan Vogel, etc.).
    The Church claims the BoM can only be proved by the Spirit.

  40. Ivan. Yes and no one has officially said it was because of this article which Dr.Peterson was told not to publish, that FARMS was unceremoniously dismissed. Would it not have been enough to not publish the article and let some grass grow ? seems like a Bizarre Overreation. Bob, I am with you about the BoM, still it is fun to metaphorically speaking, look under the skirts or into the underbelly. Not necessary and definitely a Nice to Have. And, no one says it will be entirely taken away. Just an inexplicably speedy changing of the guard….for which there might be no explanation forthcoming,..ever…

  41. Ben,
    Note the spelling of my name, please.
    To your point, There is indeed evidence on both sides of the creation of the Book of Mormon. Other commentators on this thread have discussed similar, centuries old debate on the authenticity of the Bible as Holy Writ. As to Dan Vogel, and many others, It would be surprising if they, or any serious scholars, purport to have drawn a “final” conclusion as to authorship of the text.

  42. Judge Wright. I am not sure how much of a role authenticity plays in the function of the BoM as a tool for the Lord where us members say the BoM is true. like a person is encouraged by the LDS to ask the Lord if the BoM is true. which is of course a very blanket statement. and if the Lord says YES to the inquirer (just a simple YES not a why how where, and which exact portion was potentially a little bit mistranslated etc etc etc ) then they are sort of wanted by the Lord in the LDS church…This is my impression on how it functions. And I did ask Heavenly Father, he said YES it is True, i said all of it, and he said we are doing our best…so ..for me with my testimony, this “we are doing the best we can” statement covers anything the apologists or other scholars might find out about the BoM. Of course the Bible has had similar debates. BUT we have hundreds of ancient texts that scholars can compare and really get their teeth into, I.e. Dead Sea scrolls etc.
    it is tougher with the BoM. does that mean apologists are superfluous or harmful and is this even an option, i mean is the Maxwell Institute simply going to remove all apologists because they are considered harmful, that would be….something other than fun….some have surmised this is all to put oil on any waves for Romney.

  43. Jim Wright, thank you for the correction. I was aware of the distinctinion in the standard of proof between criminal and civil cases, but it frankly slipped my mind when typing my comment. Once again, thank you for the correction.
    The question then becomes, if we are to extend our metaphor/analogy, are the church’s truth claims best thought of in terms of a criminal or civil trial? I would argue that for someone on a faith journey, trying to come to conclusions regarding these issues, they should be approached with a civil standard of proof (ie. “on the balance of probabilities”). However, the approach taken by FARMS, and apologetics in general, is more similar to the standard of proof employed in criminal cases (ie. “beyond all reasonable doubt”).
    So I would suggest a reasoning system that combines these two approaches.
    The reason FARMS, and other apologetic institutions, use this “beyond all reasonable doubt” approach is because their primary purpose (in my opinion) is not to convince people of the truthfulness of the faith. Their research is not primarily aimed to benefit those outside the church. They are, so to speak, preaching to the converted.
    They start with the assumption that the believer already has strong personal, subjective reasons to believe. In a Mormon context, this would take the form of spiritual experiences which, while often providing overwhelming evidence, are entirely subjective. A person will only dismiss this evidence if the empirical, objective, historical and scientific evidence leaves no reasonable room for belief. So the role of FARMS and apologetics is to try and convince believers that there is reasonable doubt that the church is not true. It is not impossible to believe in this faith. The empirical evidence is not overwhelmingly strong enough to provide no room for faith of some kind.

    So I think, in this sense, the role of FARMS can be considered to take the role more of a defence lawyer than a civil lawyer. I think this role is sorely needed in the Church, and some people need this kind of defence lawyer to convince them that the empirical evidence isn’t strong enough to make the church’s truth claims impossible. Maybe, from a merely objective and empirical standpoint, they are exceedingly improbable. But the research provided by FARMS, coupled with a series of subjective yet powerful spiritual experiences, provides a framework in which a person can still believe that (if subjective spiritual experiences are admitted as evidence) their faith is justified on the balance of probabilities.

  44. mormonbrit — I think if a faith is based on a balance of probabilities it really ain’t faith at all — it’s just weighing evidence. However, I agree with you that the role of FARMS is that of defense lawyer. However I see that role much differently.

    I’m a lawyer. I know that I cannot change anyone’s prior base beliefs and prejudices — I can just work with them to get a favorable verdict. So I work with whatever prejudices the jurors have already. I hire jury consultants to know all about my jury panel so that I can do that effectively.

    I also know that my job in a trial is not to give an exposition of the law. It is to convince the jury. I will use whatever is available, arguments, evidence, sympathy for my client, appeals to commonly held values and belief and so forth.

    If one is already member of the church, then it is the other side (the prosecution) that has the burden proof. If I have a testimony, then the opponents must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my faith is not justified. So I could do just defensive arguments to show the holes in reasoning and create doubt about my opponents charges against the Church. I can show that the witnesses who have stated claims against my client have a bad reputation and done disreputable things and so shouldn’t be believed. I don’t have to have absolute proof, just plausible reason why the church could be true.

    If I am a missionary introducing someone to the gospel, the standard of proof is higher. But I have a smoking gun for persuasion — the Holy Ghost. I know that what really matters is a change of heart and not merely a change of mind. However, I also know that the experience of the Holy Ghost can become a faded memory for some. My job is to remind them of their experiences with spirit, see if I can open them to re-experience it — and that sometimes requires showing that what is claimed is possibly true. Those who leave because they adopt a different value system and reject the Church because it requires them to sacrifice something cannot be reached by these methods.

    Here is what I see happening at FARMS in light of this analogy. Bradford has decided that rather than conducting the trial, the proper role for FARMS to become a law school. Instead of employing means of persuasion in response to attacks on the Church, he wants to teach about the law. Now there is nothing wrong with a law school (except they are ineffective and mere hoop-jumping exercises). However, the purpose of FARMS was to go into trial and exonerate the client from charges of being guilty of not being possibly true — or being a bad influence on society and the like. As I see it, that is just misunderstanding what needs to be done.

  45. I agree that the main practical role of apologetics seems to be to maintain room in believers’ minds for the possibility that, despite any apparent evidence to the contrary, the Church can still be true. For those who are satisfied with their day-to-day experiences in the Church, the mere possibility of truthfulness is sufficient. But for others, like myself, it is not. I want to know what is most likely to be true, not just what might possibly be true.

  46. Sihan: Like I said, the issue is a change of heart and not a convinced mind. Articles that I cited regarding Lehi’s prophetic call, covenant renewal gatherings, Jewish legal procedure and place names are sufficient for me. I have the background to assess the evidence in these areas and cringe when those who don’t have that background disregard it. But if the evidence for the gospel were somehow compelling, then we wouldn’t have a choice and faith would not be about a choice of the heart. I believe it is an essential part of God’s purpose for us that the evidence is capable of being both ways to allow for us to choose to demonstrate what we truly love.

  47. On the point of “Burden of Proof”: As an unreserved believer in the truth of the book of Mormon and of the Translation narrative, the body of evidence includes “Knowing” that the prompting of the Spirit of God is a real thing. Adding that factor to the evidence creates “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of the genuineness of the book of Mormon as Ancient Scripture.

    What follows is just one humble view of what the role of the apologist should be.
    1. Where there is a difference of opinion; acknowledge the controversy,clarify the issues where possible, provide new evidence to the conversation where available.
    2. Where there is error, correct it.
    3. Where there is blatant misrepresentation, expose it, and accurately expose the proveable motives of the accusor.

    With respect to the Maxwell Institute, because it is now fully under the umbrella of the Church, it is probably not the best sponsor of an apologetic forum. FARMS began independently with an accompanying lattitude in forms of expression. Perhaps a new iteration of FARMS is what is needed.
    As to the other issues in this thread: Not being close to either the relevant sub institutions or the parties, it would be brash to form conclusions as to the target of a pointing finger.

  48. Blake: I think faith can be defined as a trust in something for which you do not have complete and conclusive evidence. Most Mormons would regard that as deriving from the spiritual experiences that their testimonies are rooted in. If someone believes in something which they have absolutely no basis for, they are exhibiting a type of faith, which might be termed ‘blind faith’. For example, a person who believes the earth is flat for absolutely no reason whatsoever is exhibiting blind faith. I don’t think that is the type of faith most Mormons say they have. It’s certainly not the meaning I had in mind when I wrote my comment. And evidence for the gospel is “somehow compelling”, but it is also highly subjective. Spiritual experiences are evidences for the gospel which are highly compelling (else why such firm convictions and vibrant testimonies), but they are compelling only for the individual experiencing them. Moroni promises us that through the Holy Ghost we can know things. Use of the word know implies that spiritual evidence is very compelling. I think what we both agree on, however, is that empirical, physical evidence for the gospel is far from compelling.

    Regarding your extension of my court case analogy/metaphor, I don’t really see where we substantially disagree. I also see FARMS in the role of defence lawyer, while the church’s critics, as prosecutors, have an obligation to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that empirical evidence completely falsifies the church’s truth claims and thus the church cannot possibly be true. The reason they have such a high burden of proof in the empirical arena is because church members (presumably) already have such compelling evidence in the spiritual arena (through the Holy Ghost, spiritual experiences etc). To convince them out of their belief in the church, they must prove using empirical evidence, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the church’s claims cannot possibly be true. This evidence must be so overwhelming that it is even more compelling than the spiritual evidence (through the Holy Ghost) they have already received.

    The role of FARMS is to ensure this doesn’t happen. And a very important role it is, too, given the numbers of people having faith crises and leaving the church in this particular period of our history. I feel we need such a ‘defence lawyer’ in this period, and I look at the recent developments over at the Maxwell Institute with deep trepidation and anxiety.

  49. Mormonbrit: I think that we are in substantial agreement.

    What is important to see is that FARMS now wants to change from being a defense lawyer to being a law school teacher. We don’t need no stinkin’ law school teachers.

  50. Hmmm. No such thing as neutrality/objectivity, even in academic pursuits. And I was id-ed as ‘postmodern’ in the comments here just the other day.

    But more importantly, re: the link provided by annegb …

    There does not seem to be enough info available to establish much but it’s worth noting on the third page of comments it seems that Dehlin is on record saying that he did not know (as of May 10th) whether the alleged Midgley allegation about the missionary death also appears in the article.

    Someone asks:

    “My question is this: did they put this business about the deceased missionary into the article? I.e., did both Greg Smith and DCP sign off on the notion of including this? Or was this just Louis ‘Woody’ Midgley off on a rant?”

    And then it seems that Dehlin says (elipses are original):

    “Don’t know…but it’s all part of what made me feel sick and concerned enough to cause a ruckus. No one had the courtesy to send me the article, so I had to respond on the information I had available. If stuff like that was going to be printed….I was not going to take that lying down.”

  51. I think what the Church wants is not any more open public’Litigation’ of ideas, just quiet disagreement, not open argument. I feel we are beyond that point.
    If the Church wants to take it’s story into ” non-value-neutral scholarship”, it will need better evidence to put forth in support of that story.

  52. nice work! language by the way for the unnecessary law school. Blake your own argument says we need neither “law schools” nor “lawyers”because all of it is the luxury of intellectual contemplation when the mind does not make the decision but the heart does….but. I still think a relatively objective person analyzing our scripture and anyone’s scripture for that matter, is a NICE TO HAVE. Some of us thrive on intellectual stimulation. no matter what we believe…So.. how expensive is FARMS or its successor. is it worth it ?

  53. oh by the way, Dr. Peterson seems to have said that he never included the story of the deceased missionary in the article. Maybe this means he did not have to show the draft of the article to Mr. Dehlin. it seems as though he showed it to the maxwell institute since according to stuff i found online they told him he cannot publish..this incidentally is VERY WEIRD. the whole things points to the next step excommunication as per many of those people who write stuff that does not pass LDS smell test. In fact it would be fairer as far as I can see to excommunicate Dr. Peterson after all is said and done. Tabula Rasa as the old Romans say…In which case Dr. Peterson will lose his chair of Islamic Studies at BYU ? can excommuniQuees hold a professorship at BYU. i would say out of the question. BTW no one has yet figured the scientific explanation of immaculate conception yet here we all are and a potential 1.18 billion catholics who fervently believe it. so does that mean FARMS has to be reinstated immediately and get with that Immaculate COnception proof (beyond reasonable doubt please if at all possible)..

  54. Blake (#55) reminded me of this great quote from Terryl Givens:

    “…faith is what operates or what unfolds in a middle ground, between the compulsion to affirm and the compulsion to deny. And I believe that God has structured our lives here on this Earth in such a way that, when it comes to those issues of eternal import, we have to be free to affirm or to deny. And therefore, there has to be a balance of evidence, both for the veracity of the Gospel, and against it. It’s essential to God’s divine purposes, and to the flowering of freedom itself, I believe, that there have to be compelling reasons to reject the Book of Mormon, to reject Joseph as a prophet, to reject the existence of God Himself. But they have to exist alongside compelling reasons to affirm those things. Only in those circumstances can we call upon our will and choose to believe or not to believe. And I think in those moments, our choice reflects the most important things about us: our souls, what we love, what is it that we choose to affirm.”

  55. ah ! somebody’s awake !!!!!!!!!!!!! it is only 8:49 pm here on Vancouver Island…and… early in Europe,ha there is a mind in the OLD country… how disappointing that every other intelligent mind should be asleep on the east coast.,,,sigh…the earth is round and so someone can always be awake… Blake is the guy… but who is Maxwell Institute to mess with this eternal principle…especially after sustaining Daniel Peterson for… 23 years….lets see it for what it is… the egg is on the face…what is a new proselyte like myself to think… my home teachers and visiting teachers (and those for whom I am supposed to be a VISITING home teacher albeit they are not consciously aware but surely they have an impression, and plus my home visiting teacher companion the poor woman) are LITERALLY ROTATING….give some guidance and I WILL print it off for the homies. please come on… you cannot do this to me… will you just FLAT excommunicate me if I root with the Doctor Peterson ?

  56. oh sigh. as i said on some other blog blake saw,… juneuary makes me shiver,,,, bye Miss LDS Pie ???? tomorrow church, keep the innocent souls there safe from my sarcasm honed with this “episode”… is a keep your lips zipped scenario/. pray for me as soon as you awake, east coast brothers.

  57. With respect to the Maxwell Institute, because it is now fully under the umbrella of the Church, it is probably not the best sponsor of an apologetic forum. FARMS began independently with an accompanying lattitude in forms of expression. Perhaps a new iteration of FARMS is what is needed.

    Which brings us full circle to the worries they had at the time of merger. I am saddened to realize that prof Welch has been disfellowshipped from his own creation — just as he feared and just as he was promised would not happen.

    My thanks to the OP for putting things so well.

  58. Ben Huff, “Is there such a thing as perfect objectivity and neutrality with regard to religion?” No there isn’t in religion, but there is in secular academia. Since modern secular academia is rooted in the scientific method of inquiry, it possible to achieve objectivity and neutrality by critiquing scholarship based on its adherence to the scientific method rather than its outcome.

    My criticism of the traditional FARMS approach is not its religious bias, but its posture as a legitimate academic organization. It is trying to give the impression to its mainly LDS audience that its adherence to the scientific method is just as rigorous as the leading research organizations throughout the world. But because it implicitly gives place to prophecy and revelation as a legitimate methods scientific inquiry, it cannot be regarded as purely objective and neutral scholarship. It seems that its academics try to conduct solid scholarly research as best as they can, but then ultimately can’t fill in a lot of gaps. At that point they then concede, and make a rather postmodernist appeal, that we’re supposed to accept things based on prayer and not solid evidence anyway since we really can’t know anything. This seems to be the case with the Book of Abraham. For a long time FARMS researchers tried to show that the connection between the facsimile and the allegedly translated text. Lacking persuasive power, many (including Dan Peterson) have concluded that the facsimile is the wrong one, the real one having been likely lost, and that JS didn’t really translate according to the conventional method but through revelation.

    While I certainly agree that not everything can be known for sure and that anything is possible, some ideas are just more plausible than others based on available evidence. Hence my equation with the historicity claims of FARMS and those of the 9/11 truthers. Certainly it is possible that the US government is behind the attacks and that an illuminati-like organization exists that is pulling the strings on global politics. But the weakness of the evidence for such an idea and the strength of the evidence that 19 Arab hijackers were behind the attacks causes me to accept the latter hypothesis.

    Similarly with the BOM. Certainly it is possible for Hebrew/Egyptian-speaking peoples to have come to the American continent, had a somewhat thriving civilization, and have kept a religious text that accurately predicts the future that was buried and revealed by an angel to JS. But based on inquiry into ancient American civilizations during that time period, the fact that there appears to be no precedent of accurate distant future prediction, and the prevalence of KJV biblical ideas and 19th century religious debates woven into the BOM text, it would appear that the plausibility of a 19th century BOM could be more easily established with the scientific method.

    So my hope is that the future MI no longer try to pose as if the historicity of the BOM can be so easily established through the scientific method. One’s LDS experience shouldn’t have to be so rooted in the belief in historicity.

  59. Thanks, Ivan. I’ll check it out. I’ve never seen that discussion board before. It seemed like John was speaking using an alias because the poster was referring to events in the third person.

  60. Steve Smith: I don’t believe that your assessment of the situation is accurate — and your supposed 9/11 conspiracy theory analogy is ludicrous. What scholars who deal with ancient texts that have a history of compilation recognize is that there are many layers of production and authorship from different time periods. They don’t just assume that a text is either from one time or another; rather, they look carefully at the evidence to see which parts fit a particular sitz im Leben. Most often scholars date different parts of ancient texts to different periods even if they all appear in a single literary compilation.

    I could see immediately with your response to form critical elements in the Book of Mormon that I identified that you do not possess the background to assess these issues when you called such forms mere “parallels” with the Bible. A form is not a mere parallel. A form functions in a particular life- or ritual-setting and is presented in a particular order to fulfill its function. That is true of form critical prophetic calls and covenant renewal rites and is especially true of legal procedures. No one in Joseph Smith’s day had written about any of the forms that I have identified nor even had a clue about form criticism to detect them. Suggesting that such ordered forms in that fit their function in the correct situation are mere parallels is to miss what they reveal altogether.

    Thus, it isn’t a fact that there is no evidence to support the Book of Mormon historicity — as you attempt to make it appear; nor is it a matter that only a conspiracy theorist would put the “evidence” together in this wild manner as with 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Rather it is a matter of properly assessing the evidence and providing a theory or theories that best accounts for all of the evidence. Rather than an either entirely modern or entirely ancient text, the evidence of the Book of Mormon suggests an ancient text that has been moderated through a 19th century commentator. In this case, there is strong evidence of antiquity based on the text itself.

    We have’t found strong archaeological evidence in MesoAmerica — but I would ask what the likelihood is that there should be such evidence if what the Book of Mormon claims is true? The problem ve is that there simply is no way to answer that question. Without knowing the answer to that question, we don’t know if the lack of evidence is evidence of lack of evidence where there should be some. What we do know is that views of pre-Columbian America have been modified often and drastically within the last 20 years — and that we have not excavated most of the known sites. So I suggest that the issue remains scientifically tentative and leaves room for faith. However, the evidence strongly supports an ancient ur-text based on the forms and rituals evidenced in the Book of Mormon.

    What that means is that FARMS has employed a very acceptable paradigm. It assesses the evidence without assuming that it is impossible that the Book of Mormon is a modern production by Joseph Smith. However, for every non-Mormon review of the Book of Mormon the assumption of modern origin is so controlling that there could not possibly be any evidence for antiquity. The mere assumption determines what can count as evidence.

    This is not an issue of post-modern philosophy. It is an issue squarely addressed within the tradition of analytic philosophy and how assumptions and paradigms such as methodological naturalism control what we can possibly detect based on evidence and what we must not consider as evidence based on mere unproven and very questionable assumptions.

  61. @ Blake,
    “We haven’t found strong archaeological evidence in MesoAmerica — but I would ask what the likelihood is that there should be such evidence if what the Book of Mormon claims is true?”.
    100%__ to the Archaeological World outside the Mormon Church.

  62. @Blake,. Wow Sitz im Leben. I had to look that one up…since i had not heard that one in English before. so how did BoM receive its current Sitz im Leben ? not necessarily from FARMS . it was lost for a long time, the suddenly rediscovered. then JS had to carve out a Sitz im Leben for it which he did at his peril. Today church testimony meeting. Every other sentence of course is “I know the BoM is true”. So this is the current Sitz im Leben for the BoM and even though many of us are content with this, it would sure be nice to have FARMS or their successors show some kind of provenance as some other religions are able to who do not even feel the need to constantly say Qu’ran is true but they say instead Allah is Great or Vater Unser im Himmel geheiligt werde dein name. WHY ? because they already have a bunch of proof for their gospel ? Some philosopher should look into that. Instead, the MI mostly seems to counter Anti Mormon statements which with lack of archeological evidence as outlined in previous posts, is understandable. and entirely fascinating. Once again though, the Book of Mormon’s Sitz its function is not necessarily to be “objectively true” but for each individual in the church to be told by God that it is so. In other words, if Joe BLoe at the testimony meeting tells the ward that he knows the BoM is true, his statement might not be true. He might be “faking it until he makes it” or is in a state of praying for the testimony since he was born into the church, baptized at 8 and God has not entirely gotten through to him yet. How any scholarly inquiry can help with this, who knows. if we ever get proof via some exciting huge archaeological find, will we do away with our “I know the BoM is true?”

  63. @christine,
    One could study corn-on-the-cob 24/7, for a year, in Mesoamerica history and not see all the hard evidence about it. Why look at these smaller issues?

  64. @ Bob yeah really why ? i would presume some people consider it a privilege, a luxury and, most importantly a fulfillment of their soul’s desires. that aside, we were talking about FARMS

  65. anyway meso america does not include any of the current United States…so we could look at some spots further north. however, with the amount of seismic imaging and other geological surveys done in the US with all the fraccing and horizontal drilling for oil and gas, surely we would have found it ??? mesoamerica is probably more likely for a find since less surveyed and less drilled out..or the Lord will put it in front of our noses when it is time,…like with the plates..

  66. @christine,
    OK__let’s talk about FARMS. Without Corn__there is no Mesoamerica. Can you show me where FARMS (or the BoM) ever talks about corn? None of the major Civilizations in Mesoamerica would have existed without corn. It is the main theme used in archaeology (evidence) of understanding these peoples.

  67. this approach does not count remember because something absent is not proof. Potato? old Fritz (Emperor Friedrich in Germany) brought potatoes in from the americas as a life saving staple. and hence we have the Irish. so people in the americas must have survived since the beginning of mankind of some type of potato. then there are the self explanatory Lima beans…of course for a lot of centuries it was a kind of a foraging situation. kill a bunch of bison and pluck away at them type of deal. I would like to see the successor of FARMS maybe extrapolating on suggestions like “corn, staples of the ancients” from the subscribership, if one will be asked to resubscribe

  68. @christine,
    Mesoamerica means “Corn America”. Maize = ” A tall annual cereal grass bearing kernels on large ears: widely cultivated in America in many varieties; the principal cereal in Mexico and Central and South America since pre-Columbian times”. Maize was an “invention” of Native Americans that enabled them to have large Civilizations.
    The question pending now: Is the BoM about large civilizations in America?

  69. I am pleased at the rather diverse opinions that have followed from my essay. No doubt Jim Faulconer is right in suggesting that, at this early point, there is so much we do not know that it makes little sense to rush to judgment. I chose to write the essay, however, because I believed there was at least enough reliable information that had surfaced from principals directly involved to justify concern.

    The comments appear to run the gamut, including some from individuals who share my concern, some who feel that the apparent changes would bring a breath of fresh air and much needed diversity to the Institute, and still others who feel that apologetic research is incompatible with true scholarship and that a new direction will bring greater credibility to the Institute. One frequent commenter made it clear that, in his view, the Book of Mormon and the foundational claims of the Mormonism are a collection of myths that the present dissatisfaction with Mormon apologetics and the movement toward recognized scholarship will ultimately confirm. Bryce Haymond, Ben Huff and others have ably highlighted the gaps and ungrounded claims in this contributor’s overall position.

    Given the back and forth that has already gone on, I would only like to make a couple of additional points.

    (1) I think it is a mistake to assume that apologetic scholarship isn’t “genuine” scholarship or that it is necessarily narrow, ”dogmatic” and antagonistic and only likely to consider information friendly to its preferred views, while concealing everything else. All research, either substantively or methodologically, works within a particular point of view and is grounded in its own assumptions. Some seek to conceal these underlying prejudices, while others are unabashedly upfront about them. Take, for instance, Richard Bushman, who in his various Mormon-related works, including Rough Stone Rolling, is upfront about his prejudices and approach. I believe this openness has contributed to the richness of Bushman’s work rather than in any way detracting from it.
    (2) As I noted earlier, several commenters, including Bryce Haymond and Ben Huff, made valuable contributions in the commentary by surfacing the ungrounded and seemingly unrecognized assumptions of those who apparently wanted to disqualify scholarly apologetics on methodological grounds while advancing the primacy of secular research, seemingly as a tenet of faith. In comment #69, Steven Smith stated:

    “‘Is there such a thing as perfect objectivity and neutrality with regard to religion?’ No there isn’t in religion, but there is in secular academia. Since modern secular academia is rooted in the scientific method of inquiry, it possible to achieve objectivity and neutrality by critiquing scholarship based on its adherence to the scientific method rather than its outcome.”

    The assertion is clearly false. First, the protocols of the scientific method, strictly understood, are by no means the appropriate standard for all academic disciplines. They do not govern, for example, the study of literature, French, Music, Drama, Philosophy, Law or even Mathematics to name but a few. In fact, many disciplines that are deductive, synthetic or creative in character are ill-adapted to a purely experimental approach are a rigid methodologic stance. Second, Steven’s adherence to this popular intellectual prejudice reveals the degree to which the “logical positivism” and “logical empiricism” of the first half of the twentieth century have achieved an unquestioned and almost ideological status in the minds of many. I hope it is not ungenerous to point out that the tenuous character of this position has been widely discussed and popularly disseminated for longer than I have been alive. Even Karl Popper, someone well known for his defense of “normal science,” would have backed away from such an absolute assertion (not to mention the contentions of many others such as Karl Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn).

    Again, Bryce Haymond and Ben Huff commentary have already surfaced the ungrounded naturalistic assumptions at the foundation of the received methodological practices of much of conventional scholarship in general and “normal science” in particular, thereby exposing the limit of claims to meaning and truth worked out within the terms of naturalistic discourse. Understanding such limits does not by any means dismiss the research done under their standard; it simply provides perspective on what can be legitimately drawn as a consequence of it findings. Failing to recognize or take into account the “boundaries” that methodological commitments impose leads to a staid “methodologism”—an unexamined metaphysics of sorts in which adherents groundlessly portray their approach to research as a self-evident function of nature itself. It is not difficult to imagine how unlimited claims quickly follow.

    There is a certain irony in this. Some who call for diversity and space for many points of view often end up asserting as self-evident the methodological imperative that all legitimate research must necessarily follow. The consequence, before the fact, is to discard all points of view that do not conform to that imperative. While Mormon Apologetics admits its guiding commitments and values, it does not necessarily impose any such a methodological uniformity.

  70. Blake, FARMS has operated under the guise of being open-minded to a number of possibilities in relation to the BOM. In reality there is a strong presence of confirmation bias in virtually all research published by FARMS, and all manuscripts that suggest that the BOM took place somewhere other than ancient Mesoamerica have been routinely rejected for publication.

    What I find irksome about FARMS is the hostility with which they meet those skeptical of the BOM’s antiquity. It would seem only natural for one accustomed to the scientific method of inquiry to be skeptical towards someone who claimed psychic powers or that some figure in history had accurately predicted all sorts of future events (i.e. Nostradamus). Even FARMS researchers met Rod Meldrum’s research on a possible ancient North American setting for the BOM with hostile skepticism, even equating him to a “snake-oil salesman.” But then they assume the burden of proof to be upon those skeptical of their predominant claims to provide evidence of the BOM being something other than that, as if the default assumption about the BOM should be its antiquity.

    Yet since it is more likely that scholars using the scientific method would be skeptical of the BOM’s antiquity, then it would seem that the burden of proof lie more greatly upon FARMS to produce better evidence to back such a bold claim.

    But alas, what FARMS researchers point to as evidence is too weak to make their claim gain traction in the world of academia. And I don’t see what is wrong with scholars being unmoved by FARMS researchers’ arguments, especially when so many of the FARMS scholars openly express their skepticism towards other claims of revelation and future prognostication. I’m fine with people believing in supernatural phenomena of this sort, especially if it helps them become better people and enhance the quality of society around them. But the game is different when you’re on the turf of modern academics using the scientific. And FARMS has repeatedly shown that it just can’t compete on that turf when it comes to BOM antiquity.

    Furthermore FARMS has been failing at preventing skepticism among rank-and-file LDS. More and more LDS experiencing faith crises are finding the arguments of FARMS scholars disingenuous and based on weak evidence. This is the greatest sign of the need for transformation at the MI. If anything the new approach should help LDS become comfortable with a sort of agnosticism with regard to historicity claims of many LDS scriptures instead of loudly, and rather obnoxiously, decrying skeptics and misrepresenting their ability to compete in the realm of modern academics.

  71. Bob,
    Mesoamerica means ‘middle America’ literally. It’s the same idea as our ‘Central America.’ Meso means middle. See, for example, mesopotamia, the land in the middle of the rivers, not the land of maize rivers.

  72. @ Adam G.,
    You are right, my wording was poor. Meso (Greek?) is middle. The idea of ‘Maize America’ comes from Michael Coe.

  73. Steve (#69), I agree with David (#80) that a scientific method is not neutral, if one takes it to be a privileged method for establishing truth across the board. If supernatural causes are ruled out from the start, as many would say they are according to the definition of science, then in fact to adopt a scientific method is to rule out religion a priori–the complete opposite of neutrality. If scientific reasoning accepts only publicly repeatable, empirical evidence, then the most essential elements of religious belief are excluded by the very definition of scientific reasoning.

    Now, there may be religious claims that are bound up with empirical claims, such as the existence of certain people in a certain place. Presumably these empirical claims should be subject to the scientific method, and it may be that empirical methods are in principle neutral with regard to, say, the empirical claims of various religions. However, even if that is so, that does not mean that individual practitioners apply these methods in a neutral fashion. Rather, the history of science suggests they generally do not. Practitioners have reasons for pursuing the research projects they pursue, and objectivity is an ideal that we can achieve in principle, but whether we do or not in any particular case (or decade, or century) depends on skill, idealism, and perhaps a certain amount of luck. Rather than an attribute of individual people or projects (which it may or may not be), objectivity is more likely to be the result of having multiple individuals and groups pursuing their own agendas, giving the best arguments they can and looking for flaws in each others’ reasoning, and for which there is no straightforward, empirical test.

    We have seen consensus achieved and then lost to a paradigm shift on enough issues in the history of science that we should know that the consensus of scientific experts is an imperfect measure of the truth, making our decision to trust them ultimately a decision involving a significant amount of faith, much like a decision to trust the leaders of the church.

  74. It is only fair, though, for you to also point out the biases of FARMS researchers, and to note that at least at an intuitive level, bad arguments whose badness is revealed tend to cast doubt on the conclusion they set out to support. Strictly speaking, no amount of bad argument for X rationally undermines X, if what one is relying on is argument. If one is relying to some extent on the scholarly authority of a researcher or body of researchers, though (or even on the community of believers, of which these researchers are a part), seeing them give bad arguments legitimately undermines one’s trust. At that point I have to say, this is where personal revelation, faith and hope come in. Ultimately, we end up thrown back on our own judgment at some level, and our own discernment as to what God is or is not whispering to our hearts. Part of why I can only speak in the most general terms about historicity arguments is that I find them interesting but not terribly important. Ultimately, even if the BoM events were empirically proved real, and hence Joseph Smith were proven to have supernatural revelatory powers, that would not tell me whether these powers come from God or from the devil. In the end, the most important spiritual insight can only come directly from God and his Spirit. So in my view, the most an empirical approach can do is to defeat efforts to empirically disprove religion, and on that front, I think the FARMS crew have been fairly successful, showing enough evidence of antiquity to keep the evidence of 19th-century origins looking indecisive.

  75. @ Bob yeah your wording was poor in other words someone conned you into believing meso was maize. which is not entirely off the charts for an assumption and we cannot google everything. @David B. you forgot one category to whom I belong, as a result of you pointing out the abrupt cancellation of FARMS (of whom I did not know until I saw the relevant submissions here at TImes and Seasons) I feel that MI went about this business with a suspicious amount of haste and that they at the very least let down their subscribers by creating a rough transition to their new program if any without giving any reasonable explanation. And I cannot imagine how one could treat anyone less gentlemanly who has worked for this cause for 23 years and was there at the concept stage. I.e. Dr. Peterson who might not be a complete innocent but still seems to be at the excessively sharp end of the stick for no particular reason that anyone has been able to deduce. Generally to FARMS’ efforts back when they were in place, I sort of assumed they were PRO BMO no matter what. Which may or may not be the case but would it not make the most sense. Occam’s Razor comes to mind. Can any scholarly approach(biased or COMPLETELY objective if that even existed in the case of BoM)prevent skepticism is what I am wondering. Such an approach seems to start as a result of skepticism and with the particular situation of a religious scripture, would it not be the case that skepticism can never really be left behind if one follows along this line..i.e. the innate skepticism which humans might have in view of supernatural events. Especially when FARMS best results so far come up “indecisive”. Scholarly inquiry of any nature is (according to my friends here in the ward who cannot understand why I would entertain the possibility of finding the T&S useful as a neophyte LDS member) the killjoy of religious exhilaration (which apparently is the most helpful state to build faith) by way of using the dreaded L-word logic which just gets us way too close to the devil. some of us. I would like to exclude myself but who knows maybe i am not that bulletproof and will have to go back to the drawingboard here after a little while with my faith. so far it seems,sigh, intact. I think one of the problems LDS administration is facing in the real world, i.e. far away from academia,in each and every one of its wards, is attrition of members and insufficient and cumbersome replenishment by missionary work and those expensive image campaigns that had been running several years in a row. And as I said with the increased visibility with the 2012 race (Romney) LDS leaders might be clasping at straws to retain and build membership numbers. HOWEVER ! I personally had not seen anything else in the church so far that was so unsmooth and smacked of such dire desperation so maybe someone can straighten this out for me. How much of this ever goes on, for one reason or another, i.e. walk the long term employee out the door with immediate notice. just because they can…just like an employee of a company subjected to one of those famous ROmney Hostile Take Overs…

  76. David Bohn and Ben Huff, I must say that you make compelling arguments. There is a lot to respond to, but I don’t want to belabor points. Also for lack of time I’ll be brief.

    Both of you invoke Kuhn on paradigm shifts and claim that because paradigms have shifted repeatedly throughout history that we can never be so sure as to truth and are forced to accept many things on faith. Agreed. But might I also invoke Kuhn’s idea (which set him apart from Karl Popper) that new ideas generated by the realization of anomalies in other theories cannot progress without gaining root in the disciplinary matrix. In other words the success of an idea is predicated upon a scholar’s ability to convince others in his/her discipline of the significance of the anomaly/ies in existing theories and of the persuasive power of the idea in explaining certain phenomena.

    With the ease of access of information through the internet, it seems that an increasing number of LDS have questions and doubts in relation to historicity and whole host of other issues that they don’t believe are being well answered by the traditional FARMS appeal to postmodernistic rhetoric and the parallelomania approach. Many people have legitimate questions and concerns as to BOM archaeology (or lack thereof) and claims to be able to predict the future and they’re often finding the 19th century explanation to make more sense than the argument for antiquity. This internet induced collective faith crisis suggests it is time for the MI to undergo its own paradigm shift.

  77. Please consider the possibility that FARMS had become a destructive force in the church and that this change was inevitable. I, for one, am a temple married, returned missionary, fairly active, non-believing Mormon.

    I don’t think I’m alone. I read just about everything FARMS and FAIR produced in the late 90’s. Re-reading those articles after I’d spent some time maturing and learning how to think caused more emotional pain and damaged my testimony more than any anti-Mormon material. Why is that?

  78. I was brought to the LDS by my curiosity about life and new concepts. This curiosity was encouraged for the most part in my meetings with the missionaries. I was rewarded with a fantastic relationship with God which I cherish. Now I want to continue my curiosity about the church and anything else in my life. I am not just going to read the BoM just like I am not going to eat French Fries for every meal. tastes good but. I did not come to this church to destroy other people’s faith. I am sure FARMS did not set out to destroy or damage anyone’s faith. If this internet exchange even destroys people’s faith then why are we doing it. (B. Smith 88) or is this collateral damage that we of the not so little faith can live with ? SOmeone give me a clue.

  79. Very interesting discussion, I’ve been following it as someone who’s browsed Nibley and a few FARMS papers out of curiosity. I’m sure it would be satisfying for all of us to understand what exactly happened/is happening. I have a few related thoughts to share on a more general spiritual/philosophical level:

    The witness of the Holy Ghost regarding my testimony, to me, is completely independent of all intellectual pursuits, no matter how much they validate or completely discredit the Book of Mormon. Such things are fun and satiate curiosity, which isn’t inherently bad, but you can’t worry about things so much that you forget all your experiences with the Holy Ghost. This is one reason it’s important to keep a spiritual journal of such experiences.

    Personally, I do not see how anyone could prove or disprove the Book of Mormon based on specific archaeological or other evidence, nor do I think broad connections between Jewish and Middle-Eastern culture prove it. It is a fun and fascinating endeavor, I’m sure. But there are just SO many variables involved in this stuff, that solid conclusions are impossible to make (however much both sides in these fields don’t want you to think so). Believers and non-believers alike conveniently ignore all these variables because either it’s a cheap crutch for faith when you’re too lazy to be a better disciple, commune through prayer, etc–or, it’s a convenient way to attack a religion you seek to misunderstand.

    I think it’s safe to say that being comfortable with ambiguity is part of mortality, no matter how much wisdom and knowledge we think we have in the information age. Being a fraction of knowledge closer to a perfect brightness of understanding thanks to the resurrection doesn’t mean that there aren’t huge chunks of scientific and spiritual knowledge that we aren’t missing.

    As Paul said (to paraphrase), “now, I know in part.” I KNOW the restored gospel and church are true in part. Just because I only know in part, doesn’t mean I don’t know. You will not know fully in this life, so just realign your expectations if necessary.

    As Ether (or someone quoted in his book) said (again to paraphrase), eventually we will see with our natural eyes the things we can now only see ‘with an eye of faith,’ and when we do, we will be glad.

  80. Cameron I am with you. Ancient Research does not seem to pose a threat to my faith. I am not saying that I would disrespect anyone who claims it does. however, I cannot see how the threat can really be removed. even by closing down every church funded Ancient research they can get a hold of. Ancient research of course goes on for the Bible Qu’ran etc. so how to all those other faiths feel about it. I mean it has never been unusual to be killed in this realm, for saying the earth is round etc….someone could put a Fatwa on who are we to complain that our apologetics are being unceremoniously dismissed with, no direct threat to their lives.

  81. B Smith (88), you’re not alone in your disenchantment with FARMS. I used to be an avid reader of their productions and would regularly consult them when I had a doubt about matters concerning historicity and other church-related subjects. But once I started studying more about history and religion and constructing my own framework for how the church worked, FARMS’ publications started coming off to me as more disingenuous and uninformed.

    I agree, they’re inability to mask their contempt for people who bring up valid questions based upon which they publish an article or book (including a number of active LDS) has caused some damage to the very church they claim to be defending. What’s more, they never confront these valid questions head on, they simply wax philosophical, invoke some post-modernism and vague parallels, make a couple of jabs at peoples’ intelligence, and call it a day (as has been demonstrated by many commenters on this post). Not very scholarly in my view.

  82. Steve (93) harsh ! So we are better off without FARMS. So you could let us have some insight in your framework about how the church can work with way less ancient evidence than other churches

  83. Steve (#87), perhaps another way to put your point about Kuhn is to say that science, and scholarship in general, is a social enterprise, and the success and reliability of a research program depends in large part on who is involved in it and whether there is a critical mass of good people who are paying attention to each other’s work and willing to put in the time to hold each other to high standards of quality, as well as validating and encouraging one another when they do. I will readily agree that if only people who are already convinced the BoM is true are willing to take the trouble to read scholarship on the BoM, this can be expected to have an impact on the quality, and should have an impact on its credibility. Scholarship that passes peer review by believers only does not have the same credibility that it would have if it were to pass peer review by non-believers too. To the extent that it is difficult to get believers and non-believers both to look at the work with a careful and fair eye, the scholarly enterprise will be limited in its power, even if that is not really anyone’s fault.

    One does get the impression that MI wants to have a journal that non-believers will be willing to offer peer review for, and that is a worthy goal. Whether it is feasible right now, and worth the opportunity costs, etc., are other questions, but there is reason to be thinking about a journal that takes a different approach. Some would probably argue that part of why so many concerns of late have gone unaddressed is that MI for other reasons has just not been as producative as FARMS was before BYU took over. But whatever the reason, there is a lot more than BoM historicity that needs the attention of thoughtful people, and if a reconfiguration of apologetics can draw more energy into the enterprise, on a wider spectrum of issues, that could be a very good thing. Whether this particular development is helpful or not in that sense it is perhaps too early to know. There are so many things we would like to see happen in Mormon Studies that any particular development or publication can only address a fraction of them.

  84. Ben (95), I agree that part of the reason for the crisis at the MI was the overall lack of productivity. But my belief is that that lack of productivity is partly due to internal divisions over direction at the institute and over the question of what should be published. And those internal divisions were fueled by doubts on the part of many of the effectiveness of the traditional Nibley approach at retaining members.

    I have no problem with a group of people wanting to keep up the traditional approach to apologetics independently, but not under a church-sponsored university’s wing. I think that it is quite clear that an increasing number of LDS, especially the younger generation, are experiencing faith crises that the traditional approach is no longer effectively resolving. As for the feasibility of a new approach or what suggestions I would have for a better direction; I don’t know. I just know that at some point the arguments of Dan Vogel and Grant Palmer made a lot more sense to me, even after reading the apologists’ responses and even knowing that their scholarship is imperfect, than the arguments of defenders of the BOM, and that it seems to be that way for a growing number of LDS.

  85. Steve, in 93. you said you constructed your own framework for how the Church works. Maybe you are as entitled to share it as the FARMS editors are for their ideas of how the church works.

  86. Ben (95) you said there is so much you would like to see happen in Mormon Studies. If I only draw from the (significant) body of info given in these blog comments, I would have to wonder (and I do wonder)what your expectations should be. Obviously so far we have lots of : “inconclusive” as one commentator stated and a book that addresses Anti Mormon statements that we cannot call ourselves Christians by showing that pre-Nicene Creed most Christians had doctrine and covenants similar to ourselves. if you will allow me to sum it up very simplistically. Where does one go from there. I am curious what all is in your head that you would like to see analyzed on paper by some seasoned professional full time academics. in key words of course..

  87. Amen to Steve Smith regarding the faith destroying effects of FARMS.

    Furthermore, in response to those saying that intellectual and scientific arguments are close to irrelevant in matters of faith and receding into a homily on the homely matters of community, service and personal confirmation, i would say they are retreating from the uniqueness of the material and literal understanding of the nature of God in LDS tradition.

    In other words, in order say that science can’t measure spiritual existences and beliefs one moves away from the traditional LDS belief that God exists in a specific place as a specific personage. One retreats from a belief in and performance of miracles. One retreats from using the religion effectively forming a sophisticated cosmology.

    This retreat seems somewhat inevitable because the restored religion has been almost no help in our understanding of the physical or biological universe. The LDS church looks more and more like any other belief system and Christian sect.

    I don’t begrudge those that practice this new religion. I just mourn with those that mourn the old time religion. If you can’t loudly and proudly proclaim that you can archeologically find evidence of Eden in the new world, then what is left of the tradition, faux handcarts?

  88. Hopefully there will be not hand cart toiling to utter exhaustion in Heaven. As for evidence of Eden on Earth the Bible specifically states that there will be none. That being said, people will still keep trying to find it. We are all just too curious. the BoM does not state that its evidence is gone for ever (as far as I know)

  89. Steven, with all due respect, I cannot help but feel that the weight of your attack against FARMS, the Mormon Studies Review and the Book of Mormon as an ancient text involves little more than “name calling” the worst of rhetorical tactics. I don’t see how dismissing such scholarship as mere “parallelomania” (whatever that is) and the defense of LDS beliefs as relying too heavily on what you consider as an ill-reputed “Postmodernism” aids our efforts to get clear on any of the issues under discussion.

    Even were the work of FARMS and the Mormon Studies Review reducible to only establishing parallels, which it is not, such an approach is a time honor practice inherent in the scholarly activity of the various academic sciences you apparently value. Of course, they do not “prove” the Book of Mormon is an ancient text since the logic of analogy essentially functions to aid understanding and justify more complex research and analysis. It can, however, also raises the stakes for critics who in my experience tend to simplify by means of broad generalization and inadequate research.

    “Post-modernism” in the literature has come to be used so broadly as to mean any way of thinking that is in one way or another at odds with the Enlightenment tradition. In any case, I don’t remember having used the term in these discussions. I have drawn from traditional Philosophy of Science, Contemporary Phenomenology and Continental Philosophy to question your faith in what I believe to be an unreliable version of science that you represent more or less as a monolithic set of procedures capable of objectively disclosing “the world” as it is in itself by producing a nearly infallible body of empirically verifiable knowledge.

    Against this, I could have detailed the collapse of the “Vienna Circle” with the defection of Wittgenstein, reviewed Bergmann’s The Metaphysics of Positivism or explored the implications of W.V.O. Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” and the enormous literature that has followed in its’ train for those seeking a universal logic of science. I did mention Kuhn not so much because of his theory of paradigm shifts which is, indeed, interesting and relevant to the discussion, but most of all because Kuhn historicizes the question of science itself. This introduces us to an area of understanding where Phenomenology and, more generally speaking, Contemporary Continental Philosophy offer more fundamental and competent access to historicity as such and more generally to the questions of meaning, truth and world than other approaches, clarifying these issues over against the backdrop of “time” and with it the question of the limit “time” imposes.

    My point is that I do not believe that arguments drawn from these and related philosophical traditions by myself and others, now and in earlier instances, can be simply dismissed since they bear heavily on your contention that “science” can be counted on to objectively resolve the issues that apologetic scholarship at the Maxwell Institute has defended. There is, of course, nothing wrong with raising questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but given the science related prejudices of many of those who attack the Book of Mormon, it makes sense to keep in mind the limits of the sciences themselves. In the absence of a unified logic of the “sciences” and given the historicity of its practices, portraying it in a different light might be helpful.

    I believe it more reasonable to understand the sciences as diverse, heterogeneous and historically situated varieties of knowledge related practices and logics—sometimes based on opposing and conflicting principles—that seek to achieve a systematic understanding of given “areas”of human concern. I hope that by escaping the either/or portrayal of the sciences and issues of religious concern, all sides should feel more comfortable in advancing their honest perspectives without disparagement or scorn.

  90. Apparently someone who does not take seriously the claims of the Book of Mormon or the revelatory experiences of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries is happy that the FARMS Teview style of asserting the reality of those.things is no longer going to be around to remind him that he is in a small minority. As I understand his hope, it is that eventually he will persuade the rest of the Church to join him and we will all be like Unitarians, except instead of just not believing in the Bible we will also not believe.on the Bpok of Mormon and Book of Abtaham.

  91. Coming late to the discussion and while it’s probably pointless to add to the comments when they number over 100 I will anyway.

    Ben (35) I think you’re right to focus on the question of objectivity and neutrality. It’s unfortunate so many of the comments missed this point. However I think we need to distinguish between the unobtainable ideal of objectivity (literally trying to reach an uninvolved God’s eye view) and fairness. The former is probably a false ideal that leads to many problems. However I think what many mean by objectivity is fairness. Not the fairness we see so often in the popular press where two opposing viewpoints are given equal treatment. Rather fairness in the sense of engaging with those of differing positions in a fair way.

    That means not creating strawmen or avoiding strong arguments in preference for weaker ones. A charitable engagement recognizes you must engage with the strongest arguments. Further one must be clear about the weaknesses in ones own arguments as well as the premises they rest upon. Sometimes this is done whereas at times it’s hard to avoid thinking it’s not. The goal should be to present a well rounded view of the controversy.

    I think the legal analogy some have brought up in these various comment threads is unfortunate. A prosecutor or defense attorney really aren’t interested in fairness or truth. Rather they are trying to make the best case possible to convince a jury. The theory behind it is that via the jury truth will be manifest. However while this may be the best system possible I think most of us are understandably skeptical that it is a good method for discerning truth. Overall justice in society isn’t quite the same as truth. Our legal system is based on the notion that it’s better for some guilty to go free if it avoids government overreach. (For example more innocents being proclaimed guilty) That’s just a horrible framework out of which to think apologetics and scholarship in my view.

    Steve (69) The problem is that the evidence in question isn’t agreed upon by all the parties. So an analogy to 9/11 conspiracy theories isn’t apt. (After all a scientific investigation presupposes the same public shared facts – truthers usually end up with trouble by denying certain of the facts) With regards to the Book of Mormon I think you’ll find all apologists recognize that there isn’t enough positive evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity to be the most plausible interpretation given only public knowledge. Rather they accept the private evidence of a testimony by the Holy Ghost as a significant piece of evidence. They argue that when looking at the public facts plus that spiritual evidence that the most rational belief is the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    Apologetics in this case is at best only providing reasons for why compelling arguments against the historicity of the Book of Mormon aren’t as strong as thought. That comes by providing alternative interpretations or flaws in the arguments presented. In addition they will also argue for evidences of various strengths that in addition to testimonies of different strengths leads one to maintain a faith. That’s quite a bit different than you present.

    If the claim is that only public evidence is admissible then of course the apologetic project will seem more akin to various conspiracy theories. But one can only make this claim by misrepresenting the apologetic project itself. The quest never was to present the faithful views (and there isn’t a single one of course) as the one one must rationally believe. Rather it is just to show how one can rationally believe certain faithful positions. (And of course apologists will disagree amongst themselves over what position they view as best)

  92. David Bohn, the question of the historicity of the BOM is one of plausibility and persuasion. Invoking this idea that science is mostly subjective (which may hold truer in some areas than others) and that therefore nothing conclusive can be reached about the BOM may have worked for an while to persuade the the target questioning-LDS audience to put the issue on the shelf. The anomalies such as Nahom, Hebraisms, and Chiasmus certainly instilled the target audience with hope and excitement of the BOM’s antiquity, but the effect is wearing off and it seems that the stakes have been raised. I would venture to say that for a large number of LDS who deeply investigate the question of historicity and weigh out the 19th century evidence, the traditional FARMS approach is having increasing troubles in persuading them to hold out. Certainly much of the scholarship that asserts the BOM’s 19th century origins is simplistic as you say (as well as much of the FARMS scholarship), but many faithfuls are tilting towards this belief on the grounds of weighed plausibilities rather than a long list of evidence. You may criticize them for no longer believing, but wasn’t the main aim of FARMS to provide strong evidence to deter them from doubting in the first place?

    Raymond Takashi Swenson, I am not on a mission to convince others to doubt the BOM’s antiquity. I am merely criticizing the notion that one can use the traditional scholarly tools to prove the BOM’s antiquity as FARMS has so desperately tried to do. If you want to accept its antiquity on faith and derive inspiration from that, then more power to you. But by that same token I would hope that you wouldn’t criticize those who believe the BOM to be a 19th century text like me.

    Clark, actually FARMS hasn’t tried to use private testimonies as evidence of the BOM’s antiquity. Rather, it has tried to use traditional scholarly tools to do so. But no one who hasn’t already accepted the BOM’s antiquity based on faith to begin with accepts their methods to prove antiquity as valid. And in modern scholarship private testimonies based on prayer just don’t fly as evidence. Those are far too subjective.

  93. clark, I know how you feel I just read over 100 comments on the TBM/NOM thread only to find it was closed to comments anyway, however it was educational. this thread….its a bit of a rambler…Pro Farms Against Farms. trying to beat around the bush so commentators do not have to say if they are Pro or Not. I like a facebook post from my friend who is a hospital chaplain of I do not even know which denomination….which shows a cardboard box containing a post it note saying do not fit into your box, GOD. however, I still feel sad and want others to feel more sad. I am not sure everyone has said enough about how they feel about the fact tha tFARMS was dismissed so unceremoniously. in other words, you put in all you got and then, U’re a gonner.

  94. Steve you’re simply incorrect. They’ve made the exact same point I made in numerous places. Consider this overview of Book of Mormon Authorship Revisisted.

    For Latter-day Saints, the authorship of the Book of Mormon is not in question. They firmly believe in its authenticity as an ancient prophetic document delivered to the young farmboy Joseph Smith Jr. by the angel Moroni and translated by the gift and power of God. But critis doubt this story and work to show the book a modern creation of Joseph Smith or his contemporaries. While the authors of the articles in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited are not trying to prove the truth of the Book of Mormon, their research does add to the growing body of scholarship that supports the scripture’s authentic origins and that makes possible greater appreciation of its beauty and better understanding of its messages. (Insights 17:4)

    Nibley of course was famous that apologetics wasn’t about trying to prove the truth of those things.

    For the past twenty years we have repeated in the pages of The Improvement Era and elsewhere that nothing is to be gained by trying to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon, but that a great deal can be gained by reading it and discussing its various aspects (Nibley, Since Cumorah, 213-4)

  95. WHY in the world would a young farm boy find it in himself to take upon himself not only the task of TEDIOUS TRANSLATION but also martyrdom. Seriously unless the Lord commanded it no way anyone would do it

  96. Clark, despite FARMS scholars’ (and your) quibbling about the semantics of the word “prove,” one of the aims of their research has undoubtedly been to find evidence to support the argument that the BOM is an ancient text, in other words attempt to “prove” it, whatever that unfortunately controversial word is supposed to mean. Just recently Dan Peterson wrote an article for the MI entitled: “Evidences of the Book of Mormon.” What other purpose would FARMS, and its myriad research projects to find old world parallels, have?

  97. As an outsider to LDS apologetics — and someone coming very late to the party to boot — I find myself struck by how these changes seem to fit within the larger context of how BYU is trying to present itself these days. More specifically, it seems to me that at present there’s a hyper-sensitivity to (a) anything that might be call into question BYU’s credibility as a serious mainstream university; (b) public arguments about who is entitled to call himself/herself a Mormon and/or the boundaries of orthodox LDS thought and expression.

    As for (a), I cite (among other things) the reluctance of BYU in recent years to support scholarship and classes in Mormon literature and the apparent hostility to hosting anything (such as the longstanding sf&f symposium at BYU) that isn’t part of the officially designated core mission of BYU’s departments. Seen from that perspective, the notion of a university sponsoring a journal that *officially* embraces a role of defending a particular position — one rooted in a religious orthodoxy, no less — is certainly something that BYU’s leadership is likely to see as problematic, in terms of making BYU look mainstream and acceptable. And yes, that’s a bit of a double standard: other journals in the scholarly world certainly exist in order to defend specific orthodoxies. However, this is beside the point, which is not really about intellectual consistency but rather about how BYU looks to the other universities out there.

    All of which is slightly silly in my opinion: truly mature universities embrace opportunities for uniqueness, and there’s little more provincial than a hyper-embarrassment about looking provincial. Still, given that BYU does seem to be in this kind of phase, this kind of redirection seems not all that surprising.

    As for (b), I think the Church as a whole currently very sensitive about the notion of anyone other than appointed ecclesiastical leaders making pronouncements about what is and what is not orthodox. As in, I think they flatly don’t like any it, whoever it is and whatever the substance of the pronouncement might be. This is all the more the case if it might be seen as someone speaking from a position of authority, as a BYU professor editing a journal about Mormon studies might seem to be.

    Ironically, both of these are concerns mostly because of the BYU sponsorship. Was this the intent from the beginning in bringing FARMS into BYU? Possibly, though I doubt it — mostly because from my experience, organizations tend to bumble into fundamental change one shortsighted step at a time far more often than they do it through concerted long-term strategy. Regardless, it’s always seemed to me that bringing FARMS into BYU was a serious mismatch, given the direction BYU has been trying to go in recent years. Given that mismatch, it seems to me that something like this type of redirection was probably inevitable, short of BYU spinning off FARMS again to become its own independent entity.

  98. @types of corner desks, disagree, it does not contain the information why FARMS were summarily dismissed without notice. Not orthodox enough ? too orthodox ? that is pure speculation. Who may or may not call themselves a Mormon ? Whose position should (as per permission to be called a Mormon) be defended by FARMS or a FARMS-like entity ? I wish that BYU and the Mormon Church could make it easier for its long term supporters (such as Dr. Peterson) to be “Politically correct”. Especially since it sends me personally (as a new member)the message that I have no hope to ever be politically correct….

  99. LOL, Christine, the comment you replied to was SPAM that somehow got through our filters. I’ve sent it away to the SPAM recycling facility…

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