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Terrible Apologetics

January 13, 2009

I’m not a doctor, but I would think that when you want to be an apologist, you should…umm…defend your position.

“Instead of doing what?” the audience asks, “What other possible thing could someone do instead, Andrew?”

For one, they could start bashing and tearing down other views.

I think I wrote about this once on Main Street Plaza — so often inter-faith apologetics devolves into scripture fights and bible bashing.

But now…I think I’ve found the quintessential case of terrible apologetics. Forget inter-faith apologetics and ecumenicalism. Now we have same-faith apologetics. I think this one gets a trophy.

A trophy for failure

A trophy for failure

Over on another blog, Chantelle has lost her faith (not from any wrongdoing on her part), and all someone else can seem fit to do is bash the fact that her faith in the Bible is still intact.

So, this guy or girl, instead of making a renewed case for the Book of Mormon, says:

The thing is, you’re not going to fare any better if you really start investigating Christianity and the Bible with the same sort of critical and doubting eye that you did with Mormonism.

The archeological evidence casts serious doubt on whether the Exodus even occurred, whether Joshua really conquered Canaan, and whether David’s “kingdom” was really nothing more than a tiny little collection of dirt-poor towns of squalor.

I [sic] many ways, the Bible is an even easier target than the Book of Mormon precisely because it takes place in an area about which we have so much corroborating evidence. It makes it easier to attack the Bible.

Holy CARP. I mean, maybe someone like I should be saying something like thi — oh wait…this guy kinda anticipates that:

I’m sure various atheists would accuse you of the same sort of either ignorance, or mental gymnastics to stay Christian that you accuse Mormons of.

But you know what? I’m not going to say something like that and particularly not in a time like this. All I can say though is that this guy is supposed to be LDS. This guy is supposed to be a believer. And yet he (I’m assuming it’s a man) is the one to bring the most disparaging criticisms against the Bible. His aim isn’t to shatter her faith any further, but to…somehow…try to guilt her back to the church?

Nope, I just can’t understand it! It makes utterly no sense!

I’ve already written about personal character — ethos — in another entry on this blog too. And I’ve got to say that this guy, in his wailing criticism, absolutely fails in my book based on this. If he is supposed to be anywhere near representative of the church (which, fortunately, he isn’t, and fortunately, there’s a miracle of forgiveness — somewhere), then I’d be able to conclude that I’d want nothing to do with it, right, wrong, or indifferent, at this exact point. I know that someone’s going to say, “Oh, silly ex-mormons being offended by what people say,” but the simple point of the matter is that you don’t have to take crap from people. Life’s hard enough as it is; you don’t want to cry anymore.

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20 Comments
  1. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for this post… The gentleman in question, Seth, has since come back and apologised for his behaviour, however I admit I was a little confused by the points he made… I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond myself, which is why my reply was somewhat garbled!

    Would you mind if I put a link to your site on my blog?

    Regards,
    Chantelle

  2. Seth…That name sounds familiar.

    *checks it out*

    haha, I know that guy…small internet world after all. he gets like that sometimes.

    Feel free to put a link on your blog — that reminds me that I need to update my links too.

  3. Yes, that was me. Sorry to disappoint. It’s not the only time I’ve been at less than my best.

    I called another guy a “doofus” last week.

    Of course, he actually deserved it, but…

  4. Aw Seth, you just always have this habit of getting into the most awkward situations. But I know that you mean well.

  5. Lancaster permalink

    The problem is that Evangelicals and TBMs can’t stop taking umbrage at each other (and at the antis and atheists) long enough to articulate a logical approach to the subject. Here (as I see it) are the four main factors at issue:

    1. The document in question is authentically ancient.
    2. The contents of the document are true.
    3. The contents of the document are factually accurate.
    4. The author of the document intended them as such.

    For example, the Book of Luke. Luke begins by explaining that he’s been on a fact-finding mission and is reporting the results of his investigation. The accuracy of what he is reporting is completely separate from the question of whether he is accurately reporting it.

    Likewise, many Biblical scholars (and believers) doubt that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and question the historical accuracy of the “facts” in it. The question then is whether the writers intended it to be taken as such, or whether that provenance was asserted after the fact.

    In any case, the Pentateuch is an authentically ancient document, and we have no way of ascertaining the actual motivations of its writers (if other than Moses).

    However, in the case of the Book of Mormon, it has been repeatedly asserted to be the translation of an ancient document. If it is not the translation of an ancient document, then the syllogism resolves itself right there. Its “truth” and “accuracy” become irrelevant.

    Except to those who never believed it was an ancient document in the first place (also a legitimate view). Still, we rightly treat the writer of accurate (and interesting) historical novels with respect, and the knowing forger of historical documents as a criminal.

  6. Good analysis, Lancaster. You mention that there is a legitimate view of those who never believed it (the BoM, or Bible, or any religious text) was an ancient document (so it sidesteps factor 1 completely). I’d say that this is more common than you might think…so the question might be…should the church continue to care about asserting the authenticity of its ancient status (the quiet answer is: of course!…but this sounds like a Black and White approach)

    And a question is if this is even a legitimate approach at all? Should we accept things on an all-or-nothing view (if it isn’t authentically ancient, then should its truth or accuracy matter?) I might treat an accurate historical novel and its writer with respect, but I don’t make it divine guidance in my life.

  7. Lancaster permalink

    I believe that FARMS et al. made a huge blunder asserting that empirical tests could be successfully applied to the Book of Mormon. For the same reason a defense lawyer often won’t put even an innocent defendant on the stand, unless you are willing to accept the negative hypothesis, you shouldn’t open yourself to testable claims.

    I think the church should (will eventually) do with the Book of Mormon what it did (is doing) with the Book of Abraham: slowly back away until the question of its provenance is safely out of sight and out of mind.

    One problem with militant atheism is that going back to the dawn of time, the religious impulse has been as intertwined with human nature as sex. In both cases, we learn more by allowing the impulse to be expressed within reasonable constraints (separation of church and state, etc.) than we have to gain by repressing it.

    An interesting comparison is the impulse to represent one’s life more dramatically that it actually is. A number of recent memoirs have been shown to be largely fictional, and so critics seriously debate whether literary value trumps “the truth.”

  8. I had written a lengthy comment, but an internet disconnection humbled me.

    The highlights: I think it’s a bit dishonest to go into things from to start thinking that things can’t be empirically tested. It’s much more noble, I think, to take the FARMS position and believe that one’s belief can be empirically tested…even if they turn out to be mistaken in the end. After all, the Book of Abraham wasn’t taken to be just fluff from the beginning. People said, “Look at this proof!” It’s just they were mistaken. So, any backsliding was damage control.

    Regarding religious impulse: humans have a lot of impulses that are intertwined with human nature. That doesn’t mean we should seek all of them or seek them in the forms that they manifest in. I think that the so-called militant atheists (because militant atheists are pretty tame in comparison to militant anything else) simply point out that the key factors of religion are from impulses that should be questioned and scrutinized. We would never think of taking economic or political or social theories just by faith (and especially not if they did not empirically click as well)…and yet by faith, people do this very thing with religion.

    So, if it seems they are “repressing” religion, then that’s probably just a side effect of what they feel and see as an empirically provable way to reach better consequences.

    Your interesting comparison reminds me of a Mormon Matters post on trying to find the historical Joseph Smith.

    even if literary value can sometimes trump the truth, it doesn’t change the truth. I can recognize that there are some very impactful novels that I’d recommend everyone to read, but I wouldn’t try to make a worldview based on these things. Yet, by faith, again, so many people try to use such a literary value/truth distinction to justify their worldview regardless of how things pan out.

  9. Lancaster permalink

    Lots of things can’t be empirically proven. SETI, for example. There is no way to disprove that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, except to visit every one of the billions of stars in the universe. There is no (practical) negative hypothesis.

    This is essentially what the New Age feel-good evangelizers figured out: you can’t be proven a false prophet if you never offer up anything that can be empirically proven false, no matter how much scientific-sounding claptrap you spout.

    In terms of the religious impulse, I’m referring more to what could be called John Lennonitis: confusing wishing something was so with believing it can be made so. Human nature can be disciplined, but never exterminated.

    A la Chesterton, the religious impulse regularly worms itself into science and politics, replacing rational thought with dogmatism on the right and left. We’re better off learning to recognize its manifestations than pretending we’re above them.

  10. uhh…actually, that’s not true at all. SETI can be empirically proven. We can just find something. Heck, they already found something on Mars today.

    I want to get into all the points, but there are just so many things to address. Firstly, sure, science has a falsifiability criteria, but this isn’t so much as to show what is real and what is not real (because as you say, we’d have to see and know everything to do so). It’s to find out 1) what is scientific (scientific ideas are falsifiable…we consider evolution in a different light than ID not merely because evolution just happens to correlate with real-world phenomenon…no, the real reason is that it’s falsifiable — we could instantly know our current theories and hypotheses are wrong and should be changed if we find some fossil that exists in the wrong time period or something like that. ID has no falsifiability, so regardless of if it is or isn’t correct, it cannot be tested scientifically. Now, just because we don’t know everything about evolution, [so what is unexplained doesn’t hurt, kinda like the vastness of unexplored space doesn’t hurt us] doesn’t mean this idea is empirically off limits. Quite frankly, scientific ideas must be empirical) and 2) to find out what we have reason to believe.

    For example, we are not taking a knowledge position. And atheism doesn’t exclusively take a knowledge position either. At its minimal, it is simply a lack of belief (e.g., do you believe? no. Oh, snaps). And this lack of evidence is enough to not believe. (So I could say I don’t believe in aliens. I have no reason to believe). Sure, strong atheists take a positive position of “gods don’t exist” and may take a gnostic position of “I know gods don’t exist” but this isn’t the entirety of atheism anyway. I need not say “Aliens don’t exist” or “I know aliens don’t exist.” Most atheists — even the vocal ones you may be speaking of — are actually agnostic atheist, whether they are strong or weak. They will say things like “god doesn’t exist” but it’s not a knowledge position, it’s a belief taken from expectations about the empirical.

    So, really, New Age is not worth our time to play with (e.g., we have no reason to believe) not necessarily because we know it’s wrong — because we don’t…but precisely because it is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. It doesn’t hurt that it doesn’t happen to produce results anyway.

    I agree though on human nature…but the thing is…we most certainly *do* expect people to discipline their human nature. Even in some instances when it seems there is a tremendous burden to do so. I don’t pretend that these impulses just vanish.

    And it certainly isn’t safe from science or politics — no one is saying that. But that is why we DO put checks and balances on science and politics. We know the excesses and deficiencies of human nature, so that is why we check for them. We do repeatedly test and retest and scrutinize these ideas. We do have falsifiability criteria. We do expect results. What vocal atheists ask is that religion be submitted to the same.

  11. I’d question that scientific data has as much societal value as people these days act like it does. Science, for example, is only capable of saying “what.” It can never tell us “why” or “should.”

    Controversial example: “homosexuality is genetic”

    Scientifically falsifiable or verifiable statement there.

    But so what?

    My ADHD is probably genetic too. So what?

    That’s the point – science doesn’t have quite as much to offer as a lot of people think it does.

    And by the way, I don’t think that the Book of Abraham is an “easy example” of something “made up.” I do not think its criticisms have really done much to undermine the divine origin of the book – most of them being quite beside the real point.

  12. you know Seth, I read you. And that is why I have to oppose scientism — that which creates ethical and philosophical imperatives based on science.

    But interestingly enough, it swings both way. Just as “homosexuality is genetic” doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about whether we should or should not permit it, I’ve actually seen an argument in the opposite direction. I’ve seen such a scientistic argument that evolutionarily, only heterosexuality produces offspring naturally, and our natural “imperative” is to reproduce, so therefore homosexuality is an anomaly that should not be supported.

    It makes me want to throw it all away.

    but i’m not so convinced that the church has what we need to fit into the gaps, unfortunately.

    I don’t know how to address your contention about the Book of Abraham though. Are the facsimiles just “quite beside the real point” or what?

  13. Well, considering that ancient Egyptians often re-used the same pictures – often in the same document – for different meanings, combined with the fact that, of a sixteen foot long scroll, we only have a few tiny surviving fragments, yes, I do think the “Egyptian funerary document” argument is beside the point.

    I’m also open to the argument advanced by some that the actual papyri functioned as a sort of “talisman” for Joseph – to put him “in the transmitting mood” so to speak. Possible, I guess. But either way, I do not find the book discredited scientifically, and certainly not spiritually.

    Especially not in light of how many parallels are popping up in recently discovered Jewish apocryphal literature to Joseph’s writings.

  14. interesting, yet the problem is that the transliterated text simply makes no reference to anything out of the ordinary from ordinary funerary documents…they certainly do not hint of anything about Abraham or anything that would literally suggest anything was out of the ordinary. Even from a few fragments, we can tell Moby Dick from Harry Potter (or at least enough to know one isn’t the other, even if we don’t know what it actually is). The thing is that even though certain figures would have different meanings in different contexts (which might be met in the same document), in a funerary context, the pieces work together in a relatively documented way. A strategy has been to search for different contexts to work out alternative explanations based on the parallels, but this seems unfruitful to reconcile the whole work.

    But then again, I’m no Egyptologist. It just seems a long shot. As a talisman, perhaps it fares better, but then we have to do some damage control on the way Joseph presented the documents and the translation. I guess that’s not odd enough in the church, but it gives no reason to believe unless you already believe.

  15. Lancaster permalink

    Andrew, you’re confusing exploration with science. They overlap, but are not the same thing. I know you’re being glib, but saying “they already found something on Mars today” is straight out of the apologist’s playbook: because something could exist doesn’t mean it does exist. (Besides, the “I” in SETI stands for “Intelligence.” We’re talking sentient life.)

    Columbus, for example, was right about his basic hypothesis (sailing west to India) but wrong about the science (he miscalculated the circumference of the Earth), but then he got lucky. “Lucky” is not science. Magellan provided the actual proof. Same with Heyerdahl. All his “proofs” only proved what Heyerdahl was capable of doing. Not what any ancient mariners did.

    What makes science science is the negative hypothesis. When a scientist offers up a valid theory, he also says, “And this is how to prove it wrong.” That’s why religious apologetics is not science: being wrong is unacceptable or unprovable. SETI is valid as exploration, but not as science because the theory offers no way of proving itself wrong.

    It’s also common to confuse rationalism with empiricism. Apologists like to keep this confusion alive because then they can argue with syllogisms like: If A and B, then it’s rational to conclude C. However, ideologues and politicians do the same thing (lawyers are rationalists by training), and scientists succumb to their passions as often as theologians.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that the religious impulse and the scientific impulse are so closely related (genetically?) that they often can’t be pried apart. Perhaps the greatest scientist in history–Newton–spent a good chunk of his life pursuing alchemy and calculating the date of the Second Coming, while devoted to a heretical Christian sect that could have ruined his career.

    Most novel scientific theories–later proved correct–are promulgated in the face of overwhelming opposition from the scientific community itself. What keeps their supporters going for decades but some mad faith in themselves? Empiricism isn’t enough. Even trailblazers like Einstein are left behind because they can’t give up their own pet theories. And many scientists are just plain nuts.

    They’re only human, after all.

  16. I disagree with your characterization of science vs. exploration, if I understand your account of Columbus correctly. Columbus’s science wasn’t wrong because his calculation was in error. Discarded and refuted scientific hypotheses may still be science. We wouldn’t start saying “Newton is not science” because his details about physics don’t work everywhere.

    Really, the question is if we have something that can be empirically falsified.

    But, really, I think there was some confusion — I wasn’t saying that SETI is scientific (it’s not — it doesn’t pass falsifiability). But you hadn’t propped it up as scientific. You said: “Lots of things can’t be empirically proven” and then talked about SETI. So, I thought you had the verification principle in mind instead. In which case, SETI *does* follow. ET Intelligence *can* be verified. It’s just that, you’re EXACTLY right — verifiability isn’t enough because it is the apologist’s dream tool. If it’s possible, they go full speed ahead with it when that’s not necessarily so.

    I don’t like the idea of your “scientific impulse.” See, I don’t think that when Newton pursues alchemy, that is a “scientific impulse.” The scientific impulse, if I were referring to such a thing, would be that scientific method which is so resilient that even in the face of overwhelming opposition because humans (even scientists) are human. I can see how faith goes for it and against it), but the “religious impulse” has a conclusion and foundation already and tries to justify it no matter what and make everything fit into it. The scientific method produces unexpected things that could shake the foundation of everything else ever known before.

  17. Well, at least he was thinking outside the box.

  18. Thanks Nate, I’m trying to at least salvage some silver lining here.

  19. ^lol, I guess I missed whatever just happened here.

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  1. Because Seth R will not write on his own blog « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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