Ep 205 – Apologetics in the Raw

Written by on August 19, 2015

Jake geeks out over an exchange of blog posts between Baylor historian Philip Jenkins and Mormon apologist Bill Hamblin that gets at the heart of Book of Mormon apologetics. Hold on to your Scotch-taped glasses, folks–it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Blogs referenced:
Outliers and Iconoclasts
How Consensus Changes
Mormons and New World History
Centrality of Hermeneutics
Epistemology and Nihilism

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  1. seagullfountain   On   August 19, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Love the podcast, appreciate the information in this episode, but the music is so annoying/distracting in this instance! I’m probably getting old.

    • Duke of Earl Grey   On   August 19, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      I rather appreciate the inclusion of the Nelson Muntz “Ha, ha!” I use that exact same sound clip as my ringtone for all my texts, and it never, ever gets old.

    • Rio   On   August 19, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      +1 on the annoying music! Either tone it way, way down, or eliminate it. BUT…I loved the info and arguments and for bringing this issue up!

    • Brother Jake   On   August 20, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      Thanks for sharing this post. Jenkins makes some interesting points, and I certainly share his sentiment that the historicity or non-historicity of the Book of Mormon shouldn’t influence its status as a text with religious or spiritual value.
      Where I disagree with him, however, is in his assessment of the typical LDS-Mormon believer. Specifically, he asserts that “For Mormons, as for other believers of most shades, historical or archaeological claims rank low in the structures of belief. Once within the faith, any nagging concerns about historical issues are easily set aside.” His reason for drawing this conclusion is that “A religion – any religion – is vastly more than a single scripture…It is a matter of culture.” However, I think he vastly underestimates the extent to which fundamentalist/literalistic worldviews regarding the Book of Mormon and church history have become part of LDS Mormon culture. So, when he goes on to say that “Of all the reasons why Mormons leave the faith, archaeological or historical qualms surely account for an insignificant minority of defectors,” I think he’s ignoring just how fundamentalist the LDS Mormon worldview is (I say LDS Mormon because there are other branches of Mormonism, such as Community of Christ, that have shed this fundamentalist stance in favor of something more like what Jenkins describes.)
      I can see how it would seem silly to someone like Jenkins that people would leave Mormonism over the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but the reality is that it happens, and it happens a lot. That’s the downside of fundamentalist religions. Sure, in the short term you may end up with a faith that seems “stronger,” but it’s also much more brittle.

      • Dan   On   August 21, 2015 at 6:07 am

        I think this hits the nail on the head. I was a very literal believer in the Book of Mormon as I’ve said repeatedly on this and other forums. I took Gordon B. Hinkley at his word when he set up the binary proposition : it either happened or it didn’t.
        Once I opened my mind to an objective study of the book that had so captivated my belief as a young man, there was nothing left to hold on to. Brittle is the perfect word to describe it. Well done Jake. And I even liked the music.

      • Gabriel von Himmel   On   August 21, 2015 at 4:34 pm

        Yes brittler and brittler, much like cast iron, peanut brittle, or plate glass.
        When gentiles are demanded to doubt their doubts and the “Faithful” are commanded to faith their faith in testimony after testimony reason drops out –– lost in a gyre of cosmic uncertaintude.
        Great podcast Jake

  2. Sker   On   August 20, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Fantastic episode! Just not enough of it for me. i would have liked a full episode and it seems there was enough content for one but it still rocked!

  3. WSM22   On   August 20, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Guys, I thoroughly enjoyed this minisode, but I have to admit it left me wanting more. I would love for you to do a full episode with Dr. Jenkins (if possible) going into greater depth about the topics discussed in this minisode as well as his blog.
    Keep up the great work!

  4. Sean   On   August 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    I find it so interesting that he opened this door in the discussion as it is a) a fairly complex and esotheric way to approach the discussion and b) is so riddled with paradox when these lenses are applied to religion. Essentially, they are discussing the “philosophy of science” (how do we know what we know?) and, IMO, Hamblin plays the postmodernist card and, more specifically, the “relativist” card. He essentially says “All we have are subjective accounts, there is no absolute.” Relativism would posit that truth is in the eye of the beholder and the emic (insider) accounting of the Book of Mormon can differ from the “etic” (outsider) view and both can exist as there is no concrete reality. However, these bigger philosophical grouping typically hinge on some specific assumptions. One of these is “epistemology”, or the nature of truth or learning. A relativist epistemology would likely include a view that knowledge is fluid and constructed. Another key assumption is “ontology”, or the nature of reality. A relativist assumption of ontology would likely include a belief that reality is multiple. In order to apply a relativist lens these must be considered. I see a problem here as the epistemological assumption of any correlated TBM, and as directed by the church, is naively viewed (again my opinion) through a positivist view where there is one truth and one reality (the correlated gospel) or from a slightly more nuanced post-positivist view that there is a truth but we only see it incompletely but there is still one reality (beyond the veil etc. etc.). This stuff fascinates me. To argue that relativist should spin the positivist view that God is singular truth and a prophet can know that singular truth (or post-positivist view that we can know the truth but only imperfectly) into a bit of a paradox. You can’t choose different assumptions when they suite you without throwing out the lens entirely. You can’t say reality is fluid surrounding the Book of Mormon’s conception and historicity but not concerning the doctrine, the nature of God, 10% tithe as a definite marker of temple worthiness… it just doesn’t work like that. I think Hamblin may be throwing in terms that are only going to complicate his argument. A relativist religion would be a bit like the Caucus race in Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures and Wonderland where everyone wins because reality is fluid and your emic construction is just as valid as mine; but this isn’t the premise religions tend to be built of and certainly not the LDS church where there is a singular path (correlated even).

    • Brother Jake   On   August 23, 2015 at 11:40 pm

      Stated more eloquently than I ever could have, Sean. I agree that the postmodern/relativist gambit carries troubling implications when used to implicitly uphold an ideology that is so comprehensively opposed to a relativist worldview. However, I think the irony of Hamblin using it in this instance is particularly acute because he did so to argue for belief in the literal, historical truth of the Book of Mormon. It just boggles my mind that he couldn’t see the silliness of saying “it’s impossible to know anything because of the uncertain nature of reality. Therefore, I’m totally justified in asserting that X is true!!” What?!

  5. JT   On   August 23, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Jake … Nice analysis of the “dusty-corner” cycle of Book of Mormon apologetics … and digest of Jenkins’s work. These links are a gift. Thanks!

  6. Mike   On   September 16, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Guys,
    I really enjoyed this podcast, thanks for all your time, efforts, and work here.
    I’ve had somewhat of a related discussion with family and had proposed some questions about any credible evidences for the BOM. I proposed to them some of these same questions discussed in the podcast, which are the same that Philip Jenkins proposed to Bill Hamblin. Their response is below. A couple in my family are somewhat well read on many of the problematic issues within Mormonism. They claim, just as Apologists do, that there is a lot of good credible evidence Archeologically, Anthropologically, and Linguistically for the BOM.
    Here are the questions I proposed to my family:
    What credible evidence have you been able to find that corroborates the BOM as a legitimate ancient txt? What credible evidence have you been able to find that corroborates that the Nephites/Lamanites actually existed? Any credible evidence Linguistically, Archeologically, Anthropologically? I haven’t been able to find any documented credible facts that confirm or point to the existence of any, peoples, nations, languages, places, or ethnicities in the New World/pre-Columbian Era that are described in the BOM. Evidence that at some point before Columbus, the New World was home to some people, who were derived from the Middle East, as the BOM states. Any pieces of evidence (not rooted in religious faith) for the existence of such Ethnicities, nations, cultures or languages in the New World. There is a ton of evidence for other peoples, nations, languages that existed during the proclaimed times of the Nephites and Lamanites that are well documented.
    Here’s their response, stating that their is plenty of credible evidence and recommending a few books:
    Plenty of Credible evicence exists. All of it is arguable, just like the non-credible evidence. But if you are really looking, I’d recommend starting here :
    – Richard Lloyd Anderson’s Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses
    – Opening the Heavens by Jack Welch (mostly source material)
    – Remembering Joseph by Martin McConkie
    – Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon
    – Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (show ties between the Book of Mormon and the Middle East and Meso-America)
    – Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith
    Obviously all these sited Books/Evidences are coming from LDS sources, with all authors being LDS, many with BYU education, for which would have very high confirmation biases. I’m curious if any of the Infants, or anyone else reading this thread, have read any of these particular books and can speak to the credibility of any of the Authors and content of books themselves. I suspect many Historians, Archaeologists, and those in the modern scientific community, would simply write them off and not consider them as legitimate scholarly works.
    Thanks Guys

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