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Benjamin McGuire

Apologetics And Polemics

89 posts in this topic

Rather than clutter up Will's thread, I thought I would start a new one.

I work with FAIR from time to time. One of the popular features of the FAIR website is the ask the apologist form, where people send in questions that get answered. We get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. What fascinates me is that the most vocal proponents of the idea that apologetics is harmful are the critics of the church (and it doesn't matter if they are still on the membership roles). I have to wonder if part of this isn't a rather unorganized campaign to try and smear apologetics writers in rather the same sort of way that they are accused of hurting the church.

Ben M.

Yes, it is. And this is why Daniel is so valuable. The critics dislike him for the work that he is doing. Even Tal Bachman wrote a piece about the harm that Dan has done the apologist effort and deserved to be fired. That must tell us that Dan has been successful in his effort to defend the church.

Here is Tal:

Tal Bachman wrote:

Dan Peterson: A Eulogy

For many ex-Mormons, the name of Dan Peterson elicits contempt. Maybe this is unfair. Maybe Dan, in person, is a great guy. But Dan has created, and then nursed, a very off-putting public persona for many years. Mormon head-counters will never know how many people struggling with their faith might have returned to church if, instead of being sarcastically berated by this so-called "defender of the church" for merely raising a concern in an online forum, they were heard out, patiently, or sensitively engaged. But, that was not Dan's style, at least in public. His own need to fuel his vanity by belittling others was always far more important to him than, say, a Christian duty to lovingly regather the lost sheep. For Dan, no matter what he enjoyed telling himself, it was only ever about him, and his own desperate need to feel smart, important, and powerful, at the expense of others.

Maybe this is why, also, so many members viewed him, and his colleagues, with shock and embarrassment: there just didn't seem to be anything there reminiscent of the spirit of Christianity which Mormonism pretends to represent. Peterson may have been entirely genial in person. Online and in print, he came across as self-absorbed, vainglorious, rancorous, mean, obsessed with even trivial score-settling, and in some palpable, but kind of inexplicable way, sociopathic. If, by some chance, his recent career troubles have resulted from his superiors finally realizing how bad he has made their beloved church look for the last thirty years, all I can say is, what took them so long?

He continues along in this vein for a few more paragraphs. My own experience with lds apologetics has been extremely positive and I owe a lot to you, Dan and many others at FAIR. And this is one reason we need to defend Dan. He has been doing great work for the cause. And we need to defend lds apologetics and challenge the critics and their understanding.

Tal's message is on an exmormon board getting many kudos from the exmormon crowd. I did not want to post the link.

Edited by why me
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" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

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I'm more of a spectator than a participant in this whole hulabaloo, though I have tremendously enjoyed the articles I have read from both FAIR and FARMS/MI. Maybe I have a different point of view because I don't have a "faith crisis", but efforts like Dehlins strike me as dishonest. Pretending to "support" members who want to leave by bringing in guys like Simon Southerton, I just don't get it. Why not take the leap and invite Sandra Tanner or Ed Decker over for a chat?

Frankly. I would like to see some numbers. I just don't buy the whole "members leaving in droves" over what they discovered on the internet. Because each soul is precious, we care about anyone struggling with faith, but the idea that there is some kind of church-wide crisis...well, like I said, I just don't buy it. Of course, some leave the fold, for reasons as varied as the Book of Abraham to they want to drink beer guilt free. But it seems sometimes each and every one of them becomes a profligate poster over on exmormon.org, leaving us to worry that the pace of defections is increasing, which I have yet to see evidence for.

As young people reach adulthood, a certain percentage decide the church is not for them. But that was true in the 1970's as well as today.

Someone convince me I am wrong.

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If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

No.

Can you offer a compelling reason why it should?

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Ben is right on the mark here. I cannot add anything of value to his observations, except to note that "polemics" is consistently mislabeled by Mormon critics as ad hominem attacks, when, in fact, polemics does not necessarily entail anything in the form of ad hominem attacks at all. FARMS polemics is virtually never guilty of ad hominem, one of the best examples being Bill Hamblin's quasi-famous polemical/apologetic article That Old Black Magic.

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treehugger writes:

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.
No.

Don't you think that it is more than a little odd, that if a General Authority was involved, and that the churches highest officials collectively agreed that this was the right move, that instead of there being an appropriate normal process - where the editor helps select a successor and then steps down, that it was done (seemingly intentionally) while Dr. Peterson was out of the country and unable (along with his fellow editors) to actively advocate for the outcomes they want to see?

It reminds me a great deal of my last week at home before leaving for university now these many years gone by. As one of 13 children I had the honor at the time of having the only private bedroom in the house (it was small). I was at work, and one of my younger brothers called me and asked if he could move his stuff in - that Mom and Dad had given him permission to have the room when I left. As it turns out, he hadn't asked. He simply assumed that if he got in there first, he would be allowed to stay.

The problem is there are a lot of rumors - and rumors involve interpretation. To think that a high ranking member of the church hierarchy would personally intervene in this kind of situation apart from their interest in BYU (as a church owned institution) is rather silly in my opinion. It hasn't before. Why would it start now? No - what has happened is that the interest level in this paper has simply been pushed through the roof, and at some point one of those copies that is out there is going to find its way into the public awareness (either after being published someplace - or simply posted at Scribd anonymously). It will be read. It just seems unlikely that it will be published at BYU at this point.

Edited by Benjamin McGuire
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Hi Benjamin McGuire.

Thank you for taking the time to prepare such a detailed post. I have an observation and a question if I may. I don't mind if others chime in.

I may have missed it, but I never found what I thought was a good clear definition of either apologetics or polemics. We had some good descriptions of what the one or other looks like.

My question is to ask what you think of a definition that recognizes that polemics are verbal arguments aimed at deconstructing an opposing point of view, while apologetics are verbal arguments aimed at repairing and defending a particular point of view? I have suggested before that polemics use offensive strategies and apologetics use defensive strategies.

If I am correct about the simple way to distinguish which kind of argument is being presented, we wouldn't be surprised to see that there are different tactics for each kind of argument. One of the cited references speaks of the stalemate as being harmful. In siege warfare, the goal of the defender under siege is to reach a stalemate and have the attacker leave. There is not any question of prevailing over the attacker. In a stalemate, the defender wins and the attacker loses.

My view of stalemate is why I see offensive polemics as being much much more difficult. I believe all of us are better at apologetics. It is always going to be easier. I rarely engage in polemics, not because there is something wrong with taking the offensive against perceived error. I admit that for the salvation of souls, the unity of Christ's Church, and glory of God, if I could present an offensive argument that would turn everyone into Catholics, I would present it immediately. I believe in polemics. There is nothing inherently wrong with polemics. The reason I think polemics often result in detraction and calumny is when those who engage in it fail to be ready for their opponent. When they do not succeed, perceiving they lack the necessary verbal weaponry, they slink off in frustration, or just out of range cursing like Shimei at King David. THAT in my opinion is the reason for the phenomenon of rancorous behavior we see so often on the internet. It happens to untrained zealots attacking madly with pitchforks and clubs against a well defended stockade without understanding the art of verbal warfare. Then when some wise guy drops water balloons on their heads from the top of the walls (I won't name any names, heh heh.), they really get furious!

I admit, I sometimes have a pleasure in seeing the water balloons dropped, but I have also been the guy who enjoyed antagonizing angry animals when I knew they were safely chained or caged. It is probably a habit I should not indulge.

3DOP

Edited by 3DOP
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If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

It would depend on how he was actually involved, I suspect.
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Howdy,

My brother who has some position in the LDS has been attempting to "save" me by argument as to the validity of the faith and using BoM historicity claims as evidence of the authority. Each time I check the validity of the historicity argument I have failed to find supporting evidence and, usually, find contradictory evidence.

Frequently he will attempt to argue the validity of the BoM using the BoM as the Authority in support of its validity. Obvious circular reasoning, so I don't get anywhere with that discussion.

I am open minded and reasonable on the subject of faith. If it is faith, so be it. If there are facts that support the foundation of the faith then, I would like to review the evidence.

So, I want to start at the beginning; Is there any evidence, other than the verbal assertion by Joseph Smith, of the supernatural source for the Book of Mormon? Please point me to a scholarly article on the subject and I will investigate.

Sincerely,

Starting another thread for you. Mods will probably delete these off topic posts after Billy posts on the new one.

Billy, you will be able to start your own thread in 24 more posts, until then, I suggest you use the thread I made for you, but stick to one topic at a time, BoM evidences is a good one to begin with.

Edited by calmoriah
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I may have missed it, but I never found what I thought was a good clear definition of either apologetics or polemics. We had some descriptions of one the one or other looks like.

One of my favorite authors (Umberto Eco) once in a book on semiotics discussed the difference between a dictionary meaning and an encylopedic meaning. One of those situations we have is with the word planet right? Pluto, we were taught as children, was the 9th planet in our solar system. Well, that suddenly was no longer the case in 2005, when the definition of the word "planet" changed. Of course, that doesn't mean that I still don't think of it as a planet, its just technically not one anymore (another good book - How I killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming). At any rate, we can start with just this sort of technical dictionary definition:

Apolology: a formal justification : defense

Polemic: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another

So there we have it - and attack, or a defense. The problem with these two seemingly polar definitions is that you cannot have a defense really without it being a response to corresponding attack (either a real or a potential attack). And so while we can have polemics that are purely an attack, its much harder to have a pure apology.

In this somewhat confusing state, we have developed a more practical sort of definition - an encyclopedic meaning (as Eco would put it). There is in this a sort of play that we see in the difference between eisegesis and exegesis right? An exegesis is "exposition, explanation; especially : an explanation or critical interpretation of a text" while an eisegesis is "the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas". This leads to that well known maxim (in all of its variant forms) - What I do is exegesis, what everyone else does is eisegesis. Polemical carries with it an overtone of violence, and has this negative connotation. It was in the other thread that Will started that Verum made this statement:

"... but I would say FARMS has been more guilty of having a more polemic, hostile style in responding to critical work that challenge church history and origins."

We can see that polemic is a "hostile style" - and that has become more of an apt description in the common usage. In fact, in general terms, this is to some extent the way that it gets separated from apologetics. The hostile tone. And why in many places you will see those two described in other terms - apologetics as a more intellectual pursuit, with polemics as more of an emotional pursuit. I am not sure that this is entirely useful either - but - at least in those terms, it becomes much easier to analyze (and so that kind of difference is often followed). What we can say is that polemical works carry certain styles of approach. You can list them (Johnathon Z. Smith does this in his Drudgery Divine for example). And so it becomes easier to discuss bodies of work as this type of literature based on its features. This has little to do with the contents often - and so this kind of classification shouldn't be taken as a substitute (as often happens in these kinds of forums) for dealing with the substance. But, at the same time, we can find dozens of scholarly articles that are written to deal with the "polemics" presented in the New Testament (which are numerous). So, we shouldn't say that polemics are bad necessarily. They only become bad (and this is from that rather negative view of the term) when you expect a certain amount of decorum.

Now, (and this is where my analogy comes into play), for the most part (and one of the articles I quoted from is an unusual exception), polemic is what everyone else does, not me. In fact, most of the uses of the term (and perhaps many of the misuses of the term apologetics in these various topics) are themselves an attack, are hostile, are being used because of the sentiments that term evokes in the reader - and so they are polemical in and of themselves.

So, do we have a good definition? Probably not. The best definitions I have seen are not about what they are, but what they do (and how they do it). In other words, the best definitions of polemics and apologetics tend to revolve around describing how they work and how they are produced and not so much about what they technically are.

My view of stalemate is why I see offensive polemics as being much much more difficult. I believe all of us are better at apologetics.

The challenge with the stalemate isn't that the defender wins by default, its that the problem hasn't been resolved (for either side). In religion, it means that the issue will continue to come up, over and over again. What we want isn't a repetitive cycle of schisms in the church and while we have only really had a few, the LDS Church is very young - the Catholic Church had its fair share early on, but then over time has consistently had various splinter groups. I am not saying that there is some kind of magic solution here, but what I am saying I suppose is that a group that is suggesting to find a middle way but is in reality moving towards a more intensive disagreement is wanting to do one thing and doing something else entirely (there is a wonderful euphamism in Sirach I think - "like a eunuch's desire to ravish a beautiful woman is the man who would do right by violence").

I admit that for the sake of the unity of Christ's Church, if I could present an offensive argument that would turn everyone into Catholics, I would present it immediately.

I have to admit, if I wasn't Mormon, I would be Catholic. I have a profound respect for the Catholic theologians I have interacted with personally, and I think that two millenia into its existence, Catholicism has created room for its apologists and theologians apart from its authoritarian hierarchy.

I think that one thing we haven't focused on much that is of real importance is that these debates often occur (as I noted elsewhere) in the cracks, at the edges - apologetics in its constructive aspects is about theology - and the great theologians (and this will include future Mormon theologians) are also apologists. I see myself more as a theologian than an apologist - but its a kind of dangerous title for some within Mormonism with its rather conflicting views on authority (again - that conflict creates tremendous discussion in these forums - what really is doctrine, etc.).

Ben

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BillyOhama writes:

I am open minded and reasonable on the subject of faith. If it is faith, so be it. If there are facts that support the foundation of the faith then, I would like to review the evidence.

Sure. I have lots of personal evidence. But that won't help without some ground rules - so what is it that you would classify as "evidence"? What is the proverbial evidentiary bar that you set? As I noted in the OP, this is a very problematic area, since by default most of those who want evidence to exclude from the outset most of what believers would call evidence.

Ben

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treehugger writes:

No.

Don't you think that it is more than a little odd, that if a General Authority was involved, and that the churches highest officials collectively agreed that this was the right move, that instead of there being an appropriate normal process - where the editor helps select a successor and then steps down, that it was done (seemingly intentionally) while Dr. Peterson was out of the country and unable (along with his fellow editors) to actively advocate for the outcomes they want to see?

It reminds me a great deal of my last week at home before leaving for university now these many years gone by. As one of 13 children I had the honor at the time of having the only private bedroom in the house (it was small). I was at work, and one of my younger brothers called me and asked if he could move his stuff in - that Mom and Dad had given him permission to have the room when I left. As it turns out, he hadn't asked. He simply assumed that if he got in there first, he would be allowed to stay.

The problem is there are a lot of rumors - and rumors involve interpretation. To think that a high ranking member of the church hierarchy would personally intervene in this kind of situation apart from their interest in BYU (as a church owned institution) is rather silly in my opinion. It hasn't before. Why would it start now? No - what has happened is that the interest level in this paper has simply been pushed through the roof, and at some point one of those copies that is out there is going to find its way into the public awareness (either after being published someplace - or simply posted at Scribd anonymously). It will be read. It just seems unlikely that it will be published at BYU at this point.

Also, as I stated in another thread, I cannot think a high ranking member of the church hierarchy going outside of the proper channels to intervene.

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Ben has it exactly right.

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Hi again Ben.

Thank you for clarifying the way you understand polemics. There is never any use in arguing over what a word means. It means what the user says. I would much prefer its use to be limited to the simple and precise definitions which distinguish between offense and defense. However, I have known that the word "polemical" has taken on negative connotations that cannot be escaped and perhaps I will need to use four words instead of the two. I can recall on an occasion or two when making reference to polemics, to be understood, I had to write a whole sentence anyway explaining how I meant it. So perhaps in speaking of the two basic forms of verbal argument I will need to refer to offensive apologetics or defensive apologetics.

I definitely take a brighter view of stalemate. You suggest that it is unsatisfactory because the words and arguments will continue to be repeated again and again.

But it isn't my task to vanquish my opponent. For my own sake and those within my "castle" if you will, I am most satisfied to defend them without seeing the need to pursue those who were beseiging the castle. Not until they begin to lure those within the castle to defect would it become necessary to put the "enemy" to flight if I can. Even then, my polemics are more for the sake of those who are sympathetic than for those whose ideology I oppose. Those whose hearts you have will respond to reasonable arguments. But until they find that you love them, and are well disposed to them, the enemy will remain your enemy no matter how you dismantle and explode their verbal edifices. That is why I try more and more to refrain from provoking them. Two faculties must be satisfied if we will persuade an ideological opponent, the will and the intellect. But the most important is the will. Nobody has ever been argued into believing something to be good or true if they it is associated with what they find to be revolting. That is why false historical propaganda is so effective and popular. If you can succeed in making someone despise the historical character of the Catholic Church or the CoJCoLDS, or the Czar or George III, you really don't need any arguments. Arguments are only effective when the will is already softened. And sometimes a soft will can lead to a soft intellect...but that is another discussion.

3DOP

Edited by 3DOP
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" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

No, it doesn't. Why should it? General Authorities can be wrong especially when they act outside their calling.

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Quick question before I read the rest of the thread, for Bill Hamblin, Ben, and others:

Is it possible in your view to

1) Dislike much of the work and results of John Dehlin

and

2) Object to the publication of a full-scale review, aspects of which have filtered out here and there

and

3) Believe there are other ways to deal with the problems Dehlin's approach manifests

and

4) Like and respect some of the authors/editors involved in the non-published Dehlin review?

Is that conceivable?

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Quick question before I read the rest of the thread, for Bill Hamblin, Ben, and others:

Is it possible in your view to

1) Dislike much of the work and results of John Dehlin

and

2) Object to the publication of a full-scale review, aspects of which have filtered out here and there

and

3) Believe there are other ways to deal with the problems Dehlin's approach manifests

and

4) Like and respect some of the authors/editors involved in the non-published Dehlin review?

Is that conceivable?

Sure. But that's not the point. The point is that Dehlin is a public figure engaged in public discourse of interest to Mormons. He is not, and should not be immune from criticism. The standard form of academic discourse on such matters are essays. That's what scholars do. The standard response to an essay is an essay. If Smith published an article critical of Dehlin and Dehlin objected, Dehlin could have written a response or done a podcast, etc. Rational discourse would ensue.

But that is not the path Dehlin chose. He chose 1- engage in a public ad hominen attack by claiming that the article (which he hadn't read) was an ad hominem hit piece. (Note that the leaker who let Dehlin know of the forthcoming article had not read it when he leaked the information. When he was later asked to read the article by the editor of the Review, he was unable to point to any specific instance of ad hominem. I've read it, and I haven't either. 2- Try (apparently successfully) to (at least temporarily) suppress the publication of the article.

It is not clear to me why Dehlin feels he should be above criticism, especially considering how much he criticizes the LDS Church and many of its members. The proper response is to respond to the criticism through rational discourse. Why is Dehlin unwilling to do this?

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" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

I don't think so.

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I have to admit, if I wasn't Mormon, I would be Catholic. I have a profound respect for the Catholic theologians I have interacted with personally, and I think that two millenia into its existence, Catholicism has created room for its apologists and theologians apart from its authoritarian hierarchy.

Your posts in this thread have made me feel stupid and dull by comparison. I finally got some relief from this conviction when I read this passage. Because, years ago, I came to this exact same conclusion -- "If I were not a Mormon, I would be Catholic". And for nearly the same reasons that you mentioned above. With regard to "respect though", its not theologians that I have interacted with personally, but ordinary common lay individuals. Certainly not all, but some Catholics have been raised in a manner that gives them permission or inspires them to be exceptionally generous and kindhearted human beings. Even as a Mormon, I still hope to be "like them" in this regard.

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It is not clear to me why Dehlin feels he should be above criticism, especially considering how much he criticizes the LDS Church and many of its members.

What has Dehlin written or published that would be worthy of review? I just don't know enough about him outside of his podcats etc..

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At any rate, we can start with just this sort of technical dictionary definition:

Apolology: a formal justification : defense

Polemic: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another

I sort of got the impression from your previous comments that a key aspect of polemcism is the attempt to divide, separate or polarize two sets of thoughts or (actually) two groups of people.

Which would sort of make the dictionary -- and especially those two definitions -- an exercise in polemics. eh?

OK, maybe not, if you also have to include an appeal to emotion as well.

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what has happened is that the interest level in this paper has simply been pushed through the roof, and at some point one of those copies that is out there is going to find its way into the public awareness (either after being published someplace - or simply posted at Scribd anonymously). It will be read. It just seems unlikely that it will be published at BYU at this point.

Obviously, its publication is expected -- even anticipated -- by all interested parties at this point. Not only that, but the population of "interested parties" is substantially larger now.

I would wager that somewhere on the Internet there is probably already a website discussion board that has set up a special place just to publish so-called "Hit Pieces" like this. And the instant it is published, it will circle the globe at Relativistic velocities -- much faster than the time it will take to read it.

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What has Dehlin written or published that would be worthy of review? I just don't know enough about him outside of his podcats etc..

You must have missed this part of Dr. Hamblin's post:

"The point is that Dehlin is a public figure engaged in public discourse of interest to Mormons. He is not, and should not be immune from criticism. The standard form of academic discourse on such matters are essays. That's what scholars do. The standard response to an essay is an essay. If Smith published an article critical of Dehlin and Dehlin objected, Dehlin could have written a response or done a podcast, etc. Rational discourse would ensue."

It doesn't matter if he has written essays or given podcasts -- they are all part of the discourse.

Edit: I just realized that I may have misunderstood your question. I'm sorry if I have.

Edited by Evangeline
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You must have missed this part of Dr. Hamblin's post:

"The point is that Dehlin is a public figure engaged in public discourse of interest to Mormons. He is not, and should not be immune from criticism. The standard form of academic discourse on such matters are essays. That's what scholars do. The standard response to an essay is an essay. If Smith published an article critical of Dehlin and Dehlin objected, Dehlin could have written a response or done a podcast, etc. Rational discourse would ensue."

It doesn't matter if he has written essays or given podcasts -- they are all part of the discourse.

I'll confess that I have not listened to even one of his podcats. I what way is he in conflict with the church?

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