The State of Mormon Apologetics

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mormon apologetics is a rather ad hoc affair of scrounging to find plausible explanations for the implausible.

Case in point: On a message board, a skeptic asked if there were similarities between mound builder myths and Book of Mormon descriptions of mounds. Clearly the answer is yes. The mound builder myths sprung up as an explanation for the large earthen “mounds” that are not uncommon in parts of the eastern and central United States.

In Joseph Smith’s day, many people believed that these were remnants of ancient pyramids, tombs, and fortresses built by a white race (some even said they were Israelites) that had been destroyed by the wicked Native Americans (does this sound familiar?).

To the skeptic’s query, I responded with a passage from the Book of Mormon describing earthen fortifications together with a quote from a Thaddeus Harris circa 1803 describing one of the mound structures as a fortress that is eerily similar to the one described in the Book of Mormon.

Soon, an apologist responded, this time the perpetually dyspeptic Bill Hamblin (think Daniel Peterson without the wit or sense of humor). Hamblin claimed, “If the BOM was intended as an explanation for the mound-builders, it is most notable for its failure to mention, let alone explain, the mounds.”

When I asked him to explain, he simply replied,

I meant exactly what I said; it doesn’t mention the word “mound.” If JS was intending to connect the BOM with “mound-builders” then some might expect him to use the words “mound” or “mound-builders.”

So there you have it: so long as the word “mound” isn’t used, we aren’t talking about the same thing.

Keep in mind that these are the same people who insist that the Book of Mormon indicates that “others” (presumably aborigines of Siberian descent) were already occupying Book of Mormon lands when the Jaredites and Nephites arrived.

How do they know this? They insist that the Book of Mormon’s distinction between “goat” and “wild goat” means that some others had already domesticated said goats (no, I’m not making this up). Never mind that the Book of Mormon says that the land is “reserved” for people that God has brought out of Jerusalem:

8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

The apologists explain that perhaps God brought the Siberians over the land bridge to inhabit the land before the Book of Mormon peoples arrived. But to do this, they have to ignore not only the Book of Mormon text but also Joseph Smith’s description of the people, which he said he received from an angel:

This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God. … I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me. …

In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.

To recap, the angel declared that the Jaredites/Nephites were the first and aboriginal inhabitants of the land, and the Book of Mormon text tells us that the land was reserved from that time for those God would bring.

In short, some apologists are taking an inconsistent approach to the text. When it is to their advantage, they insist on a hyperliteral reading of the text (“it doesn’t mention the word ‘mound'”) and then turn around and read what they want to into the text (goats as indicative of the presence of others).

This approach seems a tacit admission that the Book of Mormon does not hold up to a consistent approach to its text. But then I think we already knew that.

7 Responses to The State of Mormon Apologetics

  1. K*tty says:

    Can I just say again, thank you for your blog. Having graduated from seminary and the institute, I feel like I only received a grade school education. Reading your blog is like going back to college for me. I appreciate all the effort and research that you have put into this. But it does remind me when I was in my Biology class in college and the professor had gone on for a full 15 minutes. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I turned to the person beside me and said, “Do you understand anything he just said?” I felt better when they said, “No.” I guess what I am trying to say is, who knew there were mounds. (besides the Almond Joy ones)

  2. maggielselah says:

    I would be inclined to agree that LDS apologetics – the people – do seem to resort to personal attacks more and more (especially on our ever favorite MAD board 😉 ) but overall, I don’t think all LDS apologetics are guilty of this poor unChristlike practice.

  3. Ray Agostini says:

    A nice old story: A professor asks a student if his lecture enlightened her. Reply: “Before your lecture I was confused; now I’m still confused, but on a higher level.”

    The “others” idea, originally from Sorenson, never made much sense to me in regard to what the BoM actually says, and the verses Runtu quoted back this up (though there are ingenious ways to dance around it). The real question is not whether there were “others” there, but whether there were Nephites there. We know the “others” were there for thousands of years, going back to at least 12,000 BCE.

    The apologists explain that perhaps God brought the Siberians over the land bridge to inhabit the land before the Book of Mormon peoples arrived.

    They accept that this occurred, but don’t forget that Sorenson’s main idea is that of trans-oceanic migration, which in my mind did occur, and I think there are sufficient evidences to establish this, with the Vikings too. The Vikings left tangible evidence of their landings, which is not disputed today. One argument I recall as to why such a relatively small-scale settlement was so easily detectable, but a massive civilisation like the Nephites weren’t, is because they (the Vikings) were not subject to great wars and destruction, and three days of darkness, and earthquakes which completely rearranged the face of the land (none of which, btw, has been supported by vulcanology studies). The question mostly asked by literalists is: “How would we identify a Nephite?” They (supposedly) lived in some part of Mesoamerica (still not positively identified), for a thousand years, but every tangible evidence has been eradicated.

    Note one reason why the Vikings left North America, too. As one historian noted:

    Vinland was important to the Vikings for timber, fur and food resources. It supplied fuel, building materials and food for the communities on the treeless coast of Greenland. But getting these resources was not without its problems. As Leif’s brother and his followers discovered, Vinland was already inhabited. According to the sagas, conflicts between the Vikings and the native people were not unusual. The Vikings usually found themselves outnumbered. Several deaths on both sides are recorded in the sagas.

    Somehow, the Nephites not only established a Christian culture (refer to the Book of Mormon), but absorbed all “others” into it (in their environs), with no resistance, and not even a record of severe clashes with the natives, who are never mentioned, and who would not have willingly surrendered their culture to invaders. The reported clashes comes when the Nephites break apart and the Lamanites form, ie, from internal divisions based on religion, beginning with the dissent of Laman and Lemuel, who take on the characteristics of the “Red man”, which includes scalping! There is no mention that the Lamanites adopted this from “others”, but appear to be the first to initiate this practice, and take on all appearances of the early American Indians. There seems no question that the early Mormons clearly believed that the Lamanites were the forebears of the American Indians, and even formed the traditions handed down to them, and did not “adopt” them from “others”. The Lamanites did not join “others”, they were the “others”, the only “others”.

  4. Ray Agostini says:

    To recap, the angel declared that the Jaredites/Nephites were the first and aboriginal inhabitants of the land, and the Book of Mormon text tells us that the land was reserved from that time for those God would bring.

    The relevant scripture is found in Ether 2:

    5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.
    6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.
    7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.

    The first bold portion is referring to the Old World, but the suggestion is that where the Jaredites were going, no man had ever been. Beyond that lay a “Land of Promise” preserved for them, hence America was settled by “two distinct races of people”. This is what gave rise to the idea that the Jaredties/Nephites were the “principal ancestors” of the American Indians. The “principle ancestor” idea, though not actually verbatim in scripture, and now amended to “among” the principle ancestors, originally came from a literal reading of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s statements.

  5. zackc says:

    Yeah it’s all a sad state of affairs. But since I’m nevermo I can laugh at it. You Mormons have to substitute this farcical reality with the reality the larger world lives in.

  6. Tim says:

    The same can be said of the hyperliteral way JS interpreted the BOM and the filled-in-the-gaps with his own stuff method. Both are adopted when it is convenient but neither is held to consistently.

  7. Ray Agostini says:

    Some further clarifications, in view of the discussion on MADB. This is the literal BoM scenario: After the worldwide flood (unless you subscribe to a local flood where the highest mountains are covered with water), Noah regenerates the earth with human life, then we come to the Tower where the common language is confused, but the Jaredites are spared this, then set out on their journey to the “Promised Land”. According to this scenario, Noah and his family are the only humans who survived the flood, and the Jaredites come from Noah, initially. They arrive in the Promised Land, which too, according to the worldwide flood idea, had no human life, and if it did they were presumably destroyed in the flood. If the Jaredites had discovered human life in America, what might they have wondered? “You survived the Flood?” The point here is not what the facts are (that humans existed in the Americas from at least 12,000 BCE), but what the BoM portrays. It portrays a people who break off from the only surviving civilisation post-flood.

    Genesis 11:1-9

    1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children builded. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

    Under the Jaredite scenario, “all the earth” included America, so there’s little leeway here for a “local flood” interpretation, at least according to the BoM. The above scripture (verse 1) suggests a possible limited reading of “whole earth”, but verses 4 and 8 aren’t ambiguous, the “face of all the earth”, according to the BoM (and I’m using a BoM understanding of Genesis 11 here), includes America, where the Jaredites went. The modern textual readings are an attempt to make the facts fit the mythology (that there were “others” already in America). The BoM picture is that at the time of the Tower, no other human life existed anywhere on earth (after the Flood, which destroyed “all living flesh”). This is the picture Joseph Smith had in mind, and which is reflected in the Wentworth Letter, which is based on Joseph Smith’s understanding and reading of the BoM, and also the Bible. The Jaredites are pictured as beginning a pristine “tilling” of the land, and establishing the first humans, post-Flood, in America.

    The other problem, mentioned by a poster, is how the Garden of Eden came to be in America. The objection that Adam-Ondi-Ahman wasn’t the Garden of Eden, nor the “place where Adam dwelt”, can put any head into an irreversible spin. Where did Adam “dwell”? In Adam-Ondi-Ahman, or somewhere in the Old World? If Adam was created in an Old World Garden of Eden, how did he get to “dwell” in Missouri? And if he was created in a Missouri Garden of Eden (but then later somehow transported to the Old World), then obviously that’s where the Garden of Eden was?

    This has to rival the “Two Cumorah” theory. You don’t need a degree to see the contradictions here.

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