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ARE LDS SCHOLARS AND APOLOGISTS CREDIBLE/REPUTABLE?

“And PLEASE stop posting these ridiculous links to FAIR/FARMS. They are NOT well respected members of the scientific community. they're LDS Inc. lackeys that are intent on muddying the waters with junk science that is literaly laughed at by credible scholars and scientists.”
The above quote is the response I got from a Mormon detractor after I had posted two links (one to a FAIR article, another to a FARMS one) which backed up the arguments I was making. Of course, I am not the first one to be told that LDS scholars are not real scholars, and that they are a joke in the view of all reliable scientific communities. This has been a common tactic by anti-Mormons for years.

Back in 1997 Paul Owen and Carl Mosser, two Evangelical scholars, essentially debunked this bogus argument when they presented their paper “Mormon Apologetic Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” at the Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting. After they read through several LDS scholarly and apologetic articles and books, they came to this startling conclusion: “It appears that we may be losing the battle and not knowing it.”

They proceed to give high praise to LDS scholars and apologists. Here are just a few examples:

On LDS scholarship and Apologetics (Generally)

“There are many evangelical myths concerning Mormon scholarship. The first is that there are few, if any, traditional Mormon scholars with training in fields pertinent to evangelical Mormon debates. This is simply false. It is a myth that when Mormons receive training in historiography, biblical languages, theology and philosophy they invariably abandon traditional LDS believes in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the prophethood of Joseph Smith. It is a myth that liberal Mormons have so shaken the foundations of LDS believe that Mormonism is crumbling apart. It is a myth that neo-orthodox Mormons have influenced the theology of their Church to such a degree that it will soon abandon traditional emphasis and follow a path similar to the RLDS or the World-Wide Church of God.”
“…there are, contrary to popular evangelical perceptions, legitimate Mormon scholars. We use the term scholar in its formal sense of ‘intellectual, erudite; skilled in intellectual investigation; trained in ancient languages.’”
“Mormon scholars and apologists (not all apologists are scholars) have, with varying degrees of success, answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms. Often these answers adequately diffuse particular (minor) criticisms.”
“… at the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons. We are losing the battle and do not know it. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not.”
“The scholarship of Mormon writers is often rigorous. In the least their work warrants examination.”
On Hugh W. Nibley

“Nibley has produced a seemingly endless stream of books and articles covering a dauntingly vast array of subject matter. Whether writing on Patristics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, the culture of the Ancient Near East or Mormonism, he demonstrates an impressive command of the original languages, primary texts and secondary literature… The few evangelicals who are aware of Hugh Nibley often dismiss him as a fraud or pseudo-scholar…. The bulk of Nibley's work has gone unchallenged by evangelicals despite the fact that he has been publishing relevant material since 1946…. Whatever flaws may exist in his methodology, Nibley is a scholar of high caliber…. Nibley has also received praise from non-LDS scholars such as Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Raphael Patai and Jacob Milgrom.”
I could go on and on with quotes from this article. Paul Owen and Carl Mosser praise several other LDS scholars specifically and mention the praise they have received from other non-LDS scholars. They also discuss the lofty credentials that many LDS scholars have. I strongly recommend anyone who has any doubt about the credibility of LDS scholars to read the whole article.

Sadly, here we are 13 years later, and people still insist that they are all bogus scholars with no respect. Is it worth mentioning that such an argument is an ad hominem attack? Please, people, if they are really such terrible scholars, then real arguments against what they write really shouldn’t be hard.

For those who still doubt the credibility of LDS scholars, consider some of the credentials of various LDS scholars (note: most of the following information is taken from Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome, pg. 85-90. Much thanks to Ash for complying so much of this information into one source. Like the Mosser and Owen paper, it is commended that the reader consult Ash’s book to see additional credentials for these and other LDS scholars):

John E. Clark

Clark served as the director of the New World Archaeological Foundation for many years (and no, the NWAF was not and is not about Book of Mormon archeology. In fact, many non-LDS scholars have been a part of the NWAF). He authored and co-authored many books on Mesoamerica which have been used as course reading material in various universities, and he is on the editorial board for the Ancient Mesoamerica journal, which is published by Cambridge.

John L. Sorenson

Sorenson co-authored a book on pre-Columbian contact with the Americas which was included on reading lists from Harvard. Another book authored by Sorenson is cited in the American Anthropologist.

Michael Whiting

Whiting is an evolutionary biologist who had an article featured as the cover story in Nature journal (Jan 16, 2003). He is a member of the scientific review panel for the Systematic Biology program (with the National Science Foundation).

John Butler

Butler is the Project Leader for the Human Identity DNA Technologies Group (with the National Institute of Standards and Technology). This group was in charge of identifying DNA traces in the wake of the WTC attacks. He is also a member of the FBI’s Scientific Working Group of DNA Analysis Methods, the Department of Defense’s Quality Assurance Oversight Committee on DNA Analysis, and he holds a patent on one of the major methodologies for genetic screening (just in case you didn’t know, since he holds that patent, he very likely invented that methodology). He has also won two awards.

John Gee

Gee is on the board of directors for the Aziz S. Atiya Fund for Coptic Studies (U of U), and has given presentations at several professional conferences in Egyptology and other related fields, and published in several academic journals, and has been cited by leading Egyptologists.

S. Kent Brown

Brown is a contributor to the Anchor Bible Dictionary and managing editor of the Coptic Encyclopedia.

John Tvedtnes

Tvedtnes is a Hebrew scholar who has presented at several professional Hebrew conferences, including a paper on the “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon” at the Thirteenth annual World Congress of Jewish Studies. He has also published in several academic journals.

Terryl Givens

Givens has published several LDS related books through the prestigious Oxford University Press.

John W. Welch

Welch was praised by biblical scholar David Noel Freedman for his role as editor of, and for his contributing article on the Book of Mormon in, Chiasmus in Antiquity. In the preface of that work, Freedman said, “The editor is to be commended for his catholicity and courage, and for his own original contributions in several domains including a unique treatment of the Book of Mormon. His introduction to the whole work is indispensable.”

Daniel C. Peterson

Out of all of these, Peterson is the most active in LDS apologetics. As such, he is frequently the biggest target of ridicule. Oddly enough, he also has been praised by non-LDS scholars. He is the editor-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) and has published with non-LDS academic publishers. According to Hossein Ziai, the Director Iranian Studies at UCLA, Peterson is a “fine scholar,” who has “established himself as a well respected scholar” in Islamic studies. METI has “made a lasting contribution to the scholarly activity of Islamic intellectual traditions” and Peterson’s work on METI is “superb.”

Once again, this could go on for awhile. I think you get the point. It does not sound like the non-LDS scholars are falling on the floor in laughter. To the contrary, LDS scholars are keeping up well – and remaining involved – with the greater scholarly community.

--------------------------------------------

For additional information on the credibility of LDS scholarship, I not only recommend the previously mentioned works, but also Daniel C. Peterson, “Editors Introduction – The Witchcraft Paradigm: One Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist,” FARMS Review, 18:2 (2006)

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for posting this - a very helpful point to make.

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  2. You are welcome, Carla. Lazy "ad hominem" attacks by anti-Mormons are always annoying. So, it is helpful to have some of the praise and credentials that LDS scholars have received conveniently listed as a quick response.

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  3. Of course a sane evangelical has to admit this because they potentially suffer from the same apologetic pitfalls as the mopologists. I suppose you can find credible credentials among religious apologists but ad hoc pseudo-explanations are not at all scholarly.

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  4. In defense of the commenter, I don't think these scholars' apologetic work is respected in the larger scientific community. On some issues, like the unity of Isaiah, LDS scholars are far outside the mainstream. However, I would never deny that many LDS scholars and thinkers are intelligent people and sometimes distinguished academics.

    One reason why LDS apologists are ahead of many critics is that the larger scientific community doesn't care about Mormonism in the slightest. If secular scholars bothered to contend with Mormon apologetics, the work that FARMS puts out may indeed be laughed at.

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  5. Jon,

    As the article by Peterson referenced at the end of this post says, FARMS does everything they can to make there work accessible to the mainstream. If they were doing junk work there, I doubt this would the case.

    Furthermore, this simply isn't the case. The chapter I mention in Ash's book responds to that argument. This very blog post gives some examples of their apologetic related work being praised by non-LDS scholars and being made available in the mainstream scholarly community(i.e. Tvedtnes paper on BoM names presented at an International conference of Jewish studies, Givens books published by Oxford, Freedman's praise of Welch's work of BoM and chiasmus, which appeared in the book Chiasmus in Antiquity, which is still cited by chiastic scholars today).

    You mention the unity of Isaiah, however many LDS scholars do not maintain a unity of Isaiah (though they do tinker with the dates of second-Isaiah). Still, one LDS scholar (Avraham Gileadi) who maintains the untiy of Isaiah has also been praised by mainstream scholars such as Daivd Noel Freedman.

    Egyptologist Lonnie Bell (not sure if that is how his name is spelled) praised the work of Gee, Rhoads, and Nibley in a paper on Facs. 1 in the BoA.

    The article by Owen and Mosser also makes very clear that the work of LDS scholars on Apologetics is very high caliber scholarship.

    Now, good scholarship does not guarantee correct conclusions, and that is not the point I'm trying to make. Nor does one praising the scholarly work of another mean that they agree with the conclusions that they make. All it means it that they believe that the work is respectable, and deserves to be taken seriously in the scholarly community.

    Being "outside the mainstream" and being praised and respected by the mainstream are two completely different things. Of course the apologetic work of LDS scholars is outside the mainstream. It will never be mainstream, for example, to maintain that the BoM is authentic history. However, the scholarly work on these topics by LDS is not being mocked and laughed at by the mainstream scholars who have been exposed to it, although they may disagree with it's conclusions to some extent or another.

    Another good source on this would be "Reflections on Mormonism: Judao-Christian Parallel's" ed. by Truman G. Madsen. This book is a collection of papers presented by non-LDS scholars at a symoposia about Mormonism and it's comarability to ancient Judaism and Christianity. All of these scholars give high praise to the work of LDS scholars on these similarities, most of which is undeniably apologetic in nature.

    One last quick comment - I find it incredibly inconsistent to say, "Oh, yeah, they are quality scholars, but not when writing on the BoM (or any other LDS related topic)." If they are fine scholars, then they are likely strive to maintain those same high standards of scholarship when they engage in apologetics. This frankly comes across as an ad hoc argument made in order to maintain that LDS apologetics do not need to be taken seriously despite the quality of scholars that are involved.

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  6. Chris,

    Do you mean to imply that all religious scholars are pseudo-scholars? There are many, many Christian and Jewish scholars (and LDS ones, too) who contribute to the mainstream of scholarship on the Bible, ancient Judaism, early Christianity, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and several other relevant fields. The paper by Owens and Mosser cites praise that LDS scholars have recieved from others who are not evangelicals and are not apologists.

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  7. I understand that Owen and Mosser are impressed by LDS scholarship, but first, I'm not sure Owen and Mosser are authorities in their own right. I'll have to look into them. (I read and enjoyed their book thought). Second, they may just be impressed by LDS scholarship in relation to evangelical Christian scholarship.

    And is the praise you mention directed to LDS scholars' apologetic work, or their other work?

    About Freedman's praise of Gileadi: Freedman is an extremely conservative Christian scholar. It's no surprise he'd agree with Gileadi on the unity of Isaiah and other issues. Also when apologists cite Freedman's praise, they fail to mention that Gileadi was a student of Freedman's. Freedman helped Gileadi with some of his early work. So that Freedman praises Gileadi is not terribly impressive.

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  8. The point with Freedman's praise of Gileadi is simply that a well respected scholar, who has contributed to the "mainstream" of biblical scholarship, has given praise to LDS work on the unity of Isaiah. Granted Freedman is a conservative Christian (so not very impressive to the likes of a more liberal atheist), but my point still stands. The work of LDS scholars on apologetic topics like the unity of Isaiah (while it may not be embraced by all mainstream scholars)is not being ridiculed by the scholarly elite.

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  9. I mentioned a variety of things in my last post, so your question about praise is a little vague. But to clarify a few things:

    *The Tvetnes paper I mentioned was about Hebrew names in the BoM - if that does not fall under the umbrella of apologetics, then it must be a very small umbrella. He presented it at an international conference on Jewish studies at Jerusalem. In it he mentions several Jewish Hebrew instructors he had at various universities which were impressed with the Hebrewness of the BoM, and some who suggested it maybe authentic. He was able to use examples out of the BoM of Hebrew literary structures in term papers without being laughed at, and the professors themselves sometimes used the BoM as an example (and this is in non-LDS college courses on Hebrew). So, apparently what LDS scholars are saying about the Hebrew nature of the BoM is not getting laughed at by the "mainstream" scholarly community.

    *I mentioned the praise that Welch's work on chiasmus in the BoM (again it does not get much more apologetic than that) got from Freedman (Freedman maybe a conservative Christian, but he is no believer in the BoM). An essay on that topic appears in the book Welch edited "Chiasmus in Antiquity" which has contributed to the mainstream study of chiasmus, is on many lists of "must read" books on chiasmus, and is cited in scholarly works on chiasmus.

    *I mentioned the fact the Givens works on the LDS topics (including his "By the Hand of Mormon" which many consider an apologetic book)has been published by Oxford University Press. If OUP is not the "mainstream" of scholarship, I'm not sure what is (and they don't just publish anything from anyone - you have to be putting out a pretty reliable piece of work if they are going to publish it).

    *I mentioned Lonnie Bell, who critiqued Larson's version of Facs. 1 of the BoA. He said that there should not be either a phallus or a second hawk, and that both hands should be up above the head. He praised the work of several LDS scholars who have been arguing those points (i.e. Gee, Nibley, and I think Rhoads). This is clearly work which falls within the realm of apologetics.

    *I mentioned "Reflections on Mormonism." The non-LDS scholars here acknowledge the work done by LDS scholars in drawing parallel's to early Christian and Jewish literature with the BoM and LDS unique beliefs. This, again, is an activity which is apologetic in nature. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that these non-LDS scholars also come away impressed by the parallel's they find in BoM and LDS theology with early Christian and Jewish sources.

    In short, everything I brought up in my last comment was praise for scholarship that is directly related to apologetics. It may not be "apologetics" per se (since they are not necessarily "defending" the BoM or LDS doctrine in some of the above mentioned works), but they are using the same topics, arguments,and research that appears in the more defensive works by LDS apologists; and they are not being laughed out of academia for it.

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  10. I forget to mention last time that you are right that most mainstream scholars are uninterested in LDS topics, and therefore, they do not care to read and critique it (a fact that FARMS is well aware of). However, even when a non-LDS scholar is exposed to LDS related scholarship, before they can really pass judgment, they would necessarily need to be well informed about both the relevant scholarly disciplines and the LDS topics being discussed. Unfortunately, there are not many who are so qualified.

    A few are though. Margaret Barker, for example, is an Old Testament scholar who has been fascinated at how well the BoM and LDS theology line up with her own research. In her paper at the Joseph Smith symposium and the Library of Congress in 2005 she commented on how 1 Nephi accurately describes pre-excilic Israel, and is impressed with cultural parallel's she finds the Tree of Life story in the BoM.

    Again, none of this is to say that the LDS scholars are right, only to illustrate that they are far from junk-scientists just making up a bunch of baloney. Much of their work on LDS apologetic related material is quality scholarship, which deserves to examined and considered, and responded to by the critics of Mormonism. The "ad hominem" attacks or accusations about poor scholarship just do not cut it. To again raise the question asked in my post: if it is all really such bad scholarship, is it really too much to ask for a sound refutation of their arguments? I mean, it shouldn't be hard to debunk junk, right?

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  11. I'll definitely give you Givens. I enjoyed his "By the Hand of Mormon", though it had its flaws. But I wouldn't really consider him an apologist. You're right, though, that some may.

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  12. I'll confess that I do not consider Givens an apologist either. But I have talked to many who do, and while I haven't read his "By the Hand of Mormon" (it is on my endlessly long list of things to read) from the reviews I have read, it does seem to touch on apologetic topics, and critiques alternative theories for the production of the BoM, which (if not apologetic itself) is useful for apologetics.

    Also, Givens recent publication,"When Souls had Wings," traces the belief in a pre-existence in Western thought, which is useful for LDS/evangelical apologetics.

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  13. It is important to make the distinction between scholarship and apologetics. In short, scholarship is the process of "studying" things and coming to conclusions, while apologetics is more the "defending" of an already reached conclusion. Scholars, in general, are not likely to praise apologetics (whether it is Mormon, evangelical, or even atheists apologetics)as good scholarship, because that is simply not what it is. There is good apologetics and bad apologetics, but neither would good (or bad) scholarship, because that is not what it is.

    However, apologist frequently uses scholarship. So the question, as far as I am concerned, is not whether LDS apologetics is "good scholarship," but rather whether or not the scholarship used in LDS apologetics is good, respected scholarship. And I think my many examples (and more could be given) illustrate that, despite what your personal opinion on it maybe, the scholarship on the BoM, BoA, and other LDS related topics by LDS scholars has been good scholarship, respected and praised by non-LDS scholars.

    This is the ultimate point I was trying to make from the beginning. The quoted detractor said LDS scholars are not respected members of the scientific community, but they are. He said that their work is junk-science. It is not. Even their work on LDS topics has gotten praise and recognition by the mainstream.

    FARMS produces scholarship that is useful for apologetics. In the FARMS Review they critique the work of both LDS and non-LDS works, with the main goal to be accountability (holding others to high standards of scholarship), rather than defense (at least, that is how I see it). Hence, while they are often critique works critical of Mormonism and providing counter evidence or examples, it is not necessarily apologetics (though, again, many of their arguements are useful for apologetics).

    FAIR, on the other hand, can't be producing "junk-science" because they are not claiming to produce science at all. They are an apologetic organization, whose goal is to provide well researched, and well documented apologetic responses. They strive to utilize good scholarship, or good science, but they are not trying to produce it. They are trying to produce good apologetics. And personally, I think they are pretty good at doing so (that, of course, is a generalization; some stuff by FAIR is better than other things I've seen there).

    So, again, to be clear the issue is not "is LDS apologetics praised and respected as good scholarship?" but rather "is LDS scholarship (which maybe used in apologetics) prasied and respected as good scholarship?"

    As with all fields, there are varying degrees of quality in the LDS fields of study, but overall, I think the answer is YES.

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  14. Several years ago I put together a rather extensive list of LDS scholars which profiled where they received their educations and when I could find the information, where they were working. I know o one FAIR scholar who, at the time, was employed at Bryn Mawr. I cannot for the life of me remember now who it was. I need to see if I saved that list and have it on a CD somewhere. I could have used it when I posted on my FB page a few days back.

    One of the greatest ironies of our critics is just how poorly educated they are. Without naming names, at least three that I can think of have fraudulent or no academic credentials, a few more have diplomas from unaccredited or narrowly accredited schools, and others attended colleges or universities run by the churches they attend.

    I have had one critic complain that their audience is not the academic world, but the fact is, if you are going to pretend to authority, then you need to have the credentials. When the academic credentials of LDS scholars are compared with the credentials of anti-Mormon pseudo-scholars, it has been my experience that the critics get mighty quiet.

    Thanks for the info, Neal.

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