Daniel C. Peterson, a leading LDS scholar and apologist, has written an article entitled, “When the criticisms of the Book of Mormon can’t be taken seriously.” In his article he suggests that some criticisms of the Book of Mormon are so silly that they should be dismissed with laughter. “Sometimes, an efficient response to certain criticisms is simply a good laugh.”
Well, some criticisms might well be so implausible as to deserve ridicule. Often, however, what is really happening is that Mormon representations of the criticisms are caricatures. Take, for instance, Peterson’s description of a supposedly laughable criticism of the Book of Abraham (apparently he didn’t have enough for just the Book of Mormon):
More than 20 years ago, two critics suggested that the cosmological ideas in the Book of Abraham derive from a 1728 entry in Benjamin Franklin’s unpublished personal papers and from an obscure 1755 work by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that was barely noticed in Germany and wasn’t published in English until 1900.
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I’d like to share a brief thought on an issue that comes up with surprising frequency. Very often, when discussing the Bible’s teachings with others, I am told that I am going about it the wrong way by trying to understand what the Bible says using my reasoning. There are many variations on this theme:
- You can’t understand the Bible with your intellect because the Bible is spiritual.
- You can’t understand the Bible using reason because God is beyond reason.
- You can’t understand the Bible on your own because you need ______________ (our church, our bishops, the magisterium, a living prophet, additional scripture, the priesthood, a burning in the bosom, revelation from the Holy Spirit, our organization, our literature, etc.).
You get the idea. Suffice it to say, I’m doing it all wrong. Or so I’m told. We’re talking about the Bible, I make some point about what it’s saying in context or some such thing, and all of a sudden a penalty flag is on the field. The ref announces “Offside!” and the ball is taken by the other team. (I almost never use football analogies, so that one’s for my friends in Alabama.) Read the rest of this entry »
Was Isaac Newton a real person of history? If we adopt the historical method of skeptics who question the historical existence of Jesus by constructing lists of parallels between Jesus and such mythical figures as Horus and Mithra, the answer would seem to be no. The table below presents 16 parallels between Jesus Christ and Isaac Newton—and unlike nearly all of the alleged parallels between Jesus and mythical figures, all of these parallels are completely accurate.
|His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 6.
||His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 4.
|His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Christmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 6 has been called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
||His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Newtonmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 4 has been called “The Ten Days of Newtonmas.”
|His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Joshua).
||His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Isaac).
|John described him as “the true light that comes into the world.”
||He is described as bringing light to the world: “God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light” (Alexander Pope).
|He was circumcised on the eighth day.
||He was baptized on the eighth day.
|According to tradition, his grandmother’s name was Hannah (usually Anglicized as Anne.)
||His mother’s name was Hannah.
|According to tradition, his mother’s husband died when he was young.
||His mother’s husband died before he was born.
|He never married.
||He never married.
|He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
||He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
|He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
||He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
|Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “this gospel of the kingdom must first be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
||Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “the Gospel must first be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world.”
|He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
||He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
|He is regarded by many as one of the greatest men ever to live on earth.
||He is regarded by many, in the words of Richard Dawkins, as “one of the truly great men ever to walk the earth.”
|He was honored by the use of the Greek title kurios, which can be translated “Sir.”
||He was honored by the use of the title “Sir.”
|Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
||Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
|Marty McFly used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future.
||Doc Emmet Brown used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future II.
Perhaps we need a better historical method.
The apologetic testimonies of Hank Hanegraaff, Gretchen Passantino Coburn, and Fuller Theological Seminary in defense of the Local Churches are highly problematic. As I explained in my previous post, they lack serious argument to justify the about-face of those who (in the case of Hanegraaff and Passantino Coburn) for years deemed the Local Churches, at the very least, theologically unsound. But there is something else that makes these testimonies problematic and even troublesome. There is something oddly familiar about them. Specifically, what general and unsubstantiated claims that these evangelicals make about the Local Churches eerily parallel claims that some evangelicals have also been making about the Mormon religion—as well as some claims that Mormon apologists have made. Indeed, in one instance it is the same evangelical making these claims in both cases. Read the rest of this entry »
According to an article posted online two days ago at Christianity Today, “Two notable critics have changed their minds on the controversial ‘local churches’ movement that follow the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.” The two critics are Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and Gretchen Passantino Coburn, director of Answers in Action (AIA). The article refers to a booklet to which Hanegraaff and Passantino Coburn contributed and that the Defense and Confirmation Project, a pro-Local Churches group, published in November 2007. Entitled The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ”, the booklet includes “Testimonies” (as the title page quite correctly calls them) from Hanegraaff, Passantino Coburn, and Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller’s contribution is a statement representing the assessment of Richard Mouw, the school’s president, and two other Fuller professors.
I have been quite reluctant to enter the fray of this debate, which has actually been going on for several years, but have decided now to say something. Read the rest of this entry »
After a bit of a hiatus during which those of us at the Institute for Religious Research have been reflecting on the direction our organization is headed, I wish to resume this blog with some thoughts on the notion of being an apologist. Although some of us actually consider the role of a Christian apologist to be an honorable vocation and ministry, the term apologist is now largely used as a pejorative.
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Books have an enormous power to shape the way we think and in turn the way we live. Obviously, as a Christian, the books of the Bible are for me both foundational and transformative. Other books, though not inspired or authoritative, have helped me to think about the Bible, its teachings, and its truth claims. I present here a list of books by fifteen different authors. I make no claims here about these being the greatest or most important books of their kind, although in some cases I think this assessment might apply. They happen to have been especially formative for me, either in kindling interest in a certain subject or in reorienting my way of thinking about a subject. I have listed them in roughly the order in which I read them, though my recollection in this regard may not always be correct. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday—December 18, 2008—the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a new study confirming what they had reported last year: most Americans, including about half of American evangelical Christians, believe that many religions can lead people to eternal life. Read the rest of this entry »
In response to Tony Burke’s criticism that conservative scholars’ characterization of Gospel of Thomas 114 ignored mainstream scholarship on Thomas, I had quoted from Elaine Pagels, Antti Marjanen, Stephen Patterson, and Marvin Meyer, all of whom generally agreed with the characterization that Burke disputed. In his reply, Burke asserted that “Pagels, Patterson, and Meyer…may not be the best scholars to appeal to in this debate, however, as they write often for popular audiences and their comments on the texts may suffer from the same lack of depth as the apologists I criticize.” I expressed some amazement at this statement and asked which scholars Burke thought should be consulted on the subject. In his most recent reply, Burke chose not to name one, and defended his comment by saying:
My point, however, was not that they were not accomplished scholars, but that the works that Bowman was appealing to (some of them, that is, particularly Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels) do not present a range of opinions on the topic. And my objection to the apologists’ comments on Gos. Thom. 114 is that they state only that it is misogynist, as if there are no other ways to interpret the saying. So, by “lack of depth” I simply meant that some of these other works (by Pagels, etc.) also only present one interpretation of the saying. Bowman is right, however, to object to my generalization of all four of the scholars as writing for popular audiences; Marjanen’s contribution is certainly not in the same vein.
Although I’m glad Burke acknowledges that his generalization did not apply to Marjanen, it really doesn’t apply to the other scholars either. To be fair to Pagels (imagine that, coming from this conservative!), when she wrote The Gnostic Gospels very little had yet been written about the saying. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m continuing my observations about ETS and SBL, though not in chronological order.
Yesterday, November 24, SBL had a special screening of The Bible’s Buried Secrets, the NOVA documentary first aired on PBS on Tuesday, November 18. After the screening of the two-hour documentary and a short break, the panel members took turns offering five-minute comments about various aspects of the film and then all took questions from the audience.
Introducing the film was Joan Branham, the wife of the film’s producer, Gary Glassman, who is the head of Providence Pictures. Branham is an art historian at Providence College. Both, of course, are based in Providence, Rhode Island, where ironically ETS (but not SBL) happened to meet last week. Branham made sure to include in her introduction a disparaging remark about the “right-wing fundamentalists” (as opposed to the left-wing fundies, I suppose) who criticized PBS for funding the documentary before they (the crazed critics) had seen it. This got some laughs from the audience, but the fact is that Providence Pictures had shown a trailer to select media and released information as to the conclusions defended in the film. Read the rest of this entry »