I’ve been around Mormon apologetics for 15 years or so, with all but the last three years as an apologist myself. I will say I wasn’t much of an apologist (nor am I much of a critic), but I know enough to maintain a conversation with both sides. I have run into several types of apologists, though. Here are some of the notable types:
1. The Spaghetti Throwers. You know how when pasta is done, you’re supposed to throw it against the wall, and if it sticks, it’s done. These guys throw out all kinds of stuff, hoping that within the sheer volume of arguments, one or two might stick. Over on the MAD board, we see the spaghetti throwers in the posts where someone claims a “bullseye” for the Book of Mormon in some obscure parallel between, say, Sri Lankan kingship rituals and King Lamoni’s chariots. No matter how tenuous the chain of connections, it’s always a “bullseye.”
2. The Spirit Chasers. These guys always weigh science against what the Spirit™ tells them, and they always find science lacking. There’s one guy on MAD who always tells me to pray about the issues (carbon dating, fossils, genetic mutation, whatever) and then stick with what God tells me. If you get into a discussion with such folks, bow out, because you’ll never get anywhere with them. To them, the spirit is the only reliable way to get knowledge; science is “sketchy,” as one guy put it.
3. The Professionals. A whole subculture of professional apologists has grown up around what used to be called FARMS but is now the Maxwell Institute at BYU. Most of these guys confine their apologetics to articles published in FARMS. A few of these luminaries have condescended to posting on MAD, and there seem two strains: the jokers and the smug. The first strain tends to shy away from the substantive and instead make snarky remarks about the intelligence or character of critics, all the while casting themselves as victims of hate and harassment.
Often, we see these guys (and you know who you are) making thinly disguised jokes about their own evil propensities and predilection for certain fast-food confections. The other strain tends to be no less obfuscating but gets far more personal and nasty; in a recent discussion, a well-known apologist threw out a rather large red herring and then sneered at my lack of seriousness when I said I didn’t buy his premise. I wouldn’t bother with these guys, either. What ties them to each other is the utter lack of substance in their posts.
4. The Kumbaya crowd. I would put myself in this group when I was an apologist. These are the people who try to help critics and apologists get along because, after all, we’re all after the same thing: truth. In my case, this led to my being rather naive about people’s motivations and reduced me to pleading for civility. We still see these guys on both sides of the debate, but they tend to get booted out for being “board nannies.”
5. The Haters. These are the people who believe that there is no weapon that is off-limits in defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They instantly resort to vicious namecalling and condemnation of those they perceive as enemies. These folks have not an ounce of compassion for critics or even questioners. They simply don’t like people who don’t believe the way they do. Often, I’ve heard one of them say something like “Joseph Smith was a better man than you’ll ever be, so go spew your hatred somewhere else.”
6. The Nutjobs. Sometimes this group overlaps with the Spirit Chasers, but these people are really off in their own world. These are the folks who believe that Earth really was thrown out of its orbit around Kolob to its telestial orbit today.
From what I can see, the haters and spirit chasers are becoming the predominant strain among amateur apologists. Or maybe it’s just that most of us aren’t as brilliant and self-mockingly witty as the professionals.