Daniel C. Peterson – “Humble Apologetics”

This blog will not always have posts about temple studies, I admit, as there are other things that are at work today, about which I feel I must write a little.  They keep in the same genre of sustaining and defending the Church and its members.

Over the past few days I’ve never heard so much negative criticism of the Maxwell Institute and FARMS, in the various venues online.  You’d think BYU had been harboring a criminal all these years.  Even Mormon apologetics in general is now taboo, unfit for the Church, a view which even some members are advocating.  The fad of the week is to say that “FARMS-style” apologetics is hurting the Church, is damaging to members, destroying their faith, is a losing affair, and does nobody any good, and that’s why its remaining vestiges were finally eradicated, wholly and completely from BYU.  Even the Brethren must be against apologetics and the apologists to allow, nay, to cause, nay, to be the force behind, nay, to have directly requested what happened at the Maxwell Institute last week.  Ousting Dan Peterson and stopping the work of “FARMS” must have been the goal of BYU and the Church all along.  It’s so clear now in hindsight.  The very first moderated comment on my last post?  “FARMS was an embarrassment.”

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  They even go so far as to determinedly conclude that it is Mormon apologetics, in fact, that is having a negative influence on the Church, which you’ll notice is completely backwards from its true meaning and purpose.  Indeed, they are saying that the defenders are now essentially those doing the damage, which is almost comical in its twistedness.

I enjoyed reading a piece by Benjamin McGuire last night about Apologetics and Polemics, in which he makes a very good point about current events:

What fascinates me is that the most vocal proponents of the idea that apologetics is harmful are the critics of the church (and it doesn’t matter if they are still on the membership roles).  I have to wonder if part of this isn’t a rather unorganized campaign to try and smear apologetics writers in rather the same sort of way that they are accused of hurting the church…   the suggestion that it is disagreement with leaders that is the source of the conflict – all of these things are concerted efforts to create division, to put the “faithful” members of the church with their leaders on the one side, with apologists on the other.

Yet, he notes the reality of the good that comes from these organizations,

FAIR and FARMS do good work, try to be responsible, try to limit the emotional appeals that come in their polemics, try not to engage in the fear mongering of their opponents – and they try to be intellectually responsible. They help members of the church far more than any harm that comes from them. But this is not the potrayal that any critic wants to hear (or to present).

The critics would have you believe that it is the apologists, in fact, that have been on the dark side the whole time, leading people away from the Church.  Well that certainly turns the tables, doesn’t it?  Why do they say this?  Well, they don’t want you to ever read or hear what those apologists have to say!  That would not be good for them, especially those apologists who are very good at defending the kingdom, and helping countless members strengthen their faith.

The video above is a talk given by Daniel C. Peterson at the 2008 FAIR Conference in Sandy, Utah.  I was actually in attendance at this conference, which I live blogged, when he gave the talk, which is just plain terrific.  He titled it “Humble Apologetics” after a book by the same name, and spent the hour talking about what many have been discussing online the last few days.  How do you engage in apologetics without damaging your critic?  How can you possibly defend against what a detractor has said without personally attacking that person’s character and beliefs?  What is apologetics all about anyway?  Why are we engaged in this?  What is it for?  What is it not for?  Is it necessary?  Do we really need apologetics or apologists in the Church?  How should we be engage in apologetics?  What is the right, and what is the wrong way to go about it?  Of course, we are not all perfect defenders of the faith, just as we are not perfect people, and we do not always get it right.  But knowing some of these things can certainly help along the way.  If you have an hour to spare, it is well worth your time to watch this video. (Thank you Tevya for bringing it up.)

As for those who are calling this man vicious, mean-spirited, hard-headed, cold-hearted, and all other sorts of hyphenated corporeal ad-hominem-laden epithets, I give you no further evidence (something others seem to be desperately short on these days) contrary to all such slander than this one video, and this one video only (of course there are many others, including his upcoming talk at the 2012 FAIR Conference on the topic “Of ‘Mormon Studies’ and Apologetics,” which is sure to be good given recent events and the Maxwell Institute’s new “direction”).  Daniel C. Peterson is probably the most eloquent, erudite, and jovial man I know today, which are a most fantastic combination of qualities in an individual.

P.S.  In lighter news, I received this email a few minutes ago, inquiring about my inventory of baptismal fonts for sale:

Good-day Sir/Madam, I will like to order (Baptismal Fonts), Do get back to me with  the Models and price range on the ones that you carry or customer made so i can place an order with you or can get back to me with your web site so  that i can make my selection and get back to you.Also do you accept credit card?Thank You..

I’m sorry, but this spam just makes me laugh.  I’m half tempted to reply, “Why sure!  Which variety do you prefer?”


  1. Posted June 28, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    We are living in treacherous times. The elect of God must discern by the Spirit who the wolves among us are, desiring to destroy the work of God, as they merrily go about the flock in such fashionable skins. However, we have been warned as to their strategic tactics, of which they are masters.

    Isaiah 5:20–21
    20 ¶Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

    21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

  2. Posted June 30, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    As I said, the tempest is combining against Br. Peterson, and a number of LDS apologists, to paint them as monsters.

  3. Rebekah
    Posted July 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I find it absurd that people think that apologetics is going to destroy someones faith. If people decide not to be believe in the gospel they will. It’s not just because people decided to write something with a scholarly basis to give thought and perspective to that faith.

    After all the Book of Mormon states that we should be learned and well versed in scholarly pursuits with the caution of 2 Nephi 9:29 : But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

    Or the fact that the Savior has told us to be wise as serpents,but harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

  4. Dale
    Posted July 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I particularly liked his use of the Teddy Roosevelt quote at 32:00.

    It makes a HUGE amount of sense, in the light of recent events.

  5. Posted July 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    @Dale, YES! I love that one too! It is so true. Here it is, in print:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    (Theodore Roosevelt. Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910)

  6. JL
    Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I second your observations about Brother Peterson. A nicer, kinder, more balanced guy you are unlikely to find. Through all of this, I wonder what Elder Maxwell would have to add to the subject? Nibley, on the other hand, made his views on this type of thing very clear while he was still around.

  7. Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi JL! You might be interested in my extension of Elder Maxwell’s often quoted “no more uncontested slam dunks” into a full fledged basketball analogy here:

  8. Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I have to give my ha’pennyworth of whatever.

    I have seen Dan Peterson blamed for mean-spirited ad-hominems. Yet, I have not found anything he’s said in public that has been mean-spirited. Yes, sometimes he’s said things that could be misconstrued to mean something else than what I’ve taken from them.

    Yes, he sometimes uses sarcasm. And people who have trouble thinking abstractly, take sarcasm literally, taking offence rather than humour from it. I often run into that, because I have a tendency to answer sarcastically when someone asks a question I find myself exasperated with.

    Also, people who are unable to withstand conflicting ideas–they want all their ducks lined up perfectly, so to say–find it difficult to take some of the historical mistakes or controversies, and end up leaving the Church, because of their “integrity”. I wonder if those people think their own lives are completely beyond criticism by hindsight?

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] and then receiving a witness of the truth of the gospel.  Daniel Peterson’s own father had a conversion experience like [...]

  2. [...] existence.  I appreciated Dan Peterson’s explanation of this in his talk on “Humble Apologetics.”  He said:   Why would the Lord do this? I think it’s partly because of what the [...]

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