The D’s of Mormon Apologetics

Ammon guarding the flocksA recent discussion on a post mormon discussion board touched on the question of the possibility, or likely impossibly of steel swords in the new world in Book of Mormon times. The question was brought up “Is this a ‘gotcha’ in the mormon debate?” I responded that is was not, because mormon apologists, or mopologists, have a small, but well used arsenal of responses. Many of my exmormon friends thought that the list was a fresh and concise perspective on the debate, so I have recorded the apologists arsenal below. (I’ve added a couple responses and expanded a bit.)

Apologists use any or all of their standard response classes.

  • Deny: “It doesn’t say that. The bretheren have not taught that. It’s not doctrinal.”
  • Dispute “Steel swords aren’t that hard to make. Anybody with a fire and iron ore can make them. Heck, my mother makes them on weekends.;
  • Define: “Steel in this context means iron. Or bronze. Or obsidian, or a club”
  • Discount: “The Book of Mormon isn’t about swords or horses or cureloms or cumoms or water-tight barges or endless wars. It is a second witness of Christ.”
  • Discover: “We found some metal somewhere in Central America. That proves that steel was common in the new world amongst Nephites.”
  • Deflect: “We’ve been over this question a thousand times. Please read my 100 page paper that is distantly related to the topic.”
  • Deride: “I can’t believe how stupid you anti-mormons are. Answering you would be casting pearls before swine”

and usually

  • Deplore: “It’s so sad that you’ve lost your testimony and are going to hell. “
  • Defer: “God has not chosen to reveal this knowledge to us. It will all make sense later, when we join him in the Celestial Kingdom.”

Now when you have read these things I would exhort you to keep them in your heart, so that the next time a mormon argues, you can play along and see how many of the 7 + 2 D’s of apologetics they can use in one response. Personally, I have been greatly amused by comparing the list to the answers I have heard recently.

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31 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    Out of curiosity, is there ANY defense of the Book of Mormon text a person could make that you would not find contemptible?

  2. Seth,

    I think people are coming at it from two different angles. Someone pointed this out recently, but I can’t remember who. Those who defend the Book of Mormon generally try to show that it could be exactly what it says it is. Those who criticize it try to show that it probably isn’t.

    So it might seem to me that the Book of Mormon story is 99% likely to be false, and I would focus on that; but an apologist would point to the 1% chance and say that’s better than nothing.

    I guess it depends on what you want. If you want to live by the evidence at hand, going with the 99% (while acknowledging the 1%) is appropriate. If you want the 1% to be true, then you can live by hope and faith that the 99% is just false appearances.

  3. Seth R. says:

    1%! We get 1% credibility? How incredibly generous of you!

  4. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    the BoM is just like any other MoSaying or Scripture: If leaders can hook you on the source rather than the content/creditability, they’ve got You.

    Most of the Bom is biblical doctrine, warmed over with a few Boring war stories.

    It is indeed “Chloriform in Print” (Mark Twain)

  5. dpc says:

    “the BoM is just like any other MoSaying or Scripture: If leaders can hook you on the source rather than the content/creditability, they’ve got You.”

    The good ‘ole Conspiracy Theory of Ignorance! It’s the Man keeping us in the dark! I just blogged about that on my blog a few days ago.

    How is it that the (Roman Catholic church, capitalist press, Mormon church, etc.) are so good at pulling the wool over the (good Catholics, proletariat, TBMs, etc.)’s eyes?, especially when the truth is so manifestly evident?

  6. exmoron says:

    Here’s a defense I wouldn’t find contemptible – show us the gold plates. Awfully convenient that those are missing, isn’t it?

  7. dpc says:


    I think you should direct your question to Moroni and not the church!! 🙂

  8. Seth R. says:

    Somehow I doubt even the record would make much difference to you.

    You’d just switch to attacking the ancient characters and the meanings of them with the message that Joseph still made it up. And the apologists would be busy showing why the Joseph Smith reading was actually legitimate.

    When your mind is made up, your mind is made up. That’s as true of Mormonism’s critics as it is of Mormons.

  9. Seth R. says:

    Or the criticism would switch and the anti-Mormon message would be why we should listen to some Apostate segment of Israelites who wound up in the Americas and had all these crazy notions.

    The criticisms of the other doctrines Joseph taught would, of course remain. He would still be an opportunistic womanizing charlatan in your eyes.

    Come on. Be honest with yourself here.

  10. Hellmut says:

    Why do you think that the probability that the Book of Mormon is true is greater than one percent, Seth?

  11. Seth R. says:

    1. I’ve never encountered an argument against the book’s authenticity that stuck. All criticisms have been shot quite full of holes.

    However, as noted, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything since we are looking for “more likely than not.” But for most Mormons who already believe in the book for other reasons, it’s perfectly sufficient to muddy the waters rather than prove the book by external evidence.

    I’d say we’re at Faith 10, Doubt 90 at this point.

    2. But then there are actual proofs as to the book’s authenticity as an ancient record. The text itself follows a lot of patterns common to ancient writings. Even items that initially seemed weird, later turned out to be validated as authentically ancient in character. Then you match the doctrinal complexity, and ancient style of writing with Joseph’s personal background and the fabrication idea doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore.

    Yeah, I know. You guys have heard the “there’s no way Joseph could have wrote that on his own.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I find assertions that he fabricated the book just as unlikely as I imagine you find the authenticity of the book. I don’t think the supposed Sidney Rigdon connection explains much of anything (way too much of a stretch).

    You don’t get a book of that kind of doctrinal depth and rigor without going to the Source. To me there is little question that Joseph was divinely inspired in dictating/translating the Book of Mormon. Whether he was always equally inspired is a question for another debate.

    Score: Faith 40, Doubt 60.

    We’re not at the point of convincing the skeptic as yet. However, we are at the point of earning a bit of grudging respect, which is more than many intellectually bankrupt anti-Mormons are willing to concede.

    The rest is, appropriately relegated as a matter of faith and practice.

    3. I have practiced (or attempted) the principles of the Book of Mormon for my entire life. They have served me very well. The intellectual framework of Mormonism has served me well. I find the Book of Mormon to be a highly useful paradigm for viewing human history and affairs. The stories have their own appeal, having captured my imagination since I was a young boy. I find the religious teachings to be personally rewarding as well.

    Both Mormonism and the Book of Mormon have been very good to me. So I’m pre-disposed to look at them favorably.

    All of that brings my score to: Faith 80, Doubt 20.

    Which means we are now in territory where the most reasonable position is one of faith in the book’s claims and authenticity. There is still room for doubts, and I do have them. But it’s not enough to “abandon the faith.”

    Had I had a particularly strong metaphysical experience such as direct confirmation from the Holy Ghost, or the “burning in the bosom” so many speak of, I might be closer to a 90. But I haven’t, so I don’t make that claim.

    Nor do I expect to ever get higher than a 90, since to do so would require a too much close-mindedness and unwillingness to search for truth in the universe. Honestly, I don’t see how any intellectually honest, and self critical individual can reach 99% certainty about ANYTHING in the realm of truth. Sorry, but Jonathan’s 99% figure smacks more of shameless propaganda than anything else. 90%, I could willingly concede to him. But it had better be based on something more than the standard anti-Mormon repetoire (and I imagine it is).

  12. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    ‘doctrinal depth’? Oh really??
    I bought into the idea (long time ago) that the Bible had ‘lost the plain & precious truths of Christ’s gospel’.
    Well, they’re There, starting with c. to Love God & neighbor; to be honest, kind, charitable; the Golden Rule, parable of the Good Samaritan, parable of the Prodigal Son.

    Are those that plain in the BoM? I think not. BTW(IMHO) living those will get us to CK/Heaven/Nirvana, Wherever you want to go…

    I’m afraid too many people are distracted by the ‘depth’ of anything more/less: Earrings, playing cards,tattoos, Coca Cola, and the OUTRIGHT MEANNESS of leaders towards Blacks (HOW WAS THAT A GOOD EXAMPLE???)

    Love is the Answer; not the details.

  13. Kullervo says:

    I’m not convinced by your numbers, Seth, but I don’t guess that’s really your point. Anyway, I strongly disagree that your case for point 2 is as strong as you would like to think it is. Furthermore, I don’t find point number 3 very convincing as evidence for truth. Utility doesn’t make that strong of a case for veracity, and certainly not a 40% case. I know you meant all of that as an explanation for why you believe the BoM as opposed to a convincing case for the Book, but I’m just saying that this reasonable mind differs.

    Apologetics of any kind are mostly concerned with showing how a thing is “not impossible.” They don’t convince anyone, but they do show the believer why they’re not just plain ol’ stupid for believing the way they do. Basically, I’m just rephrasing what Jonathan Blake said. He’s a pretty smart guy.

  14. Seth R. says:

    Guy, you are a perfect example of utterly missing the forest for the trees when it comes to this religion. Your breezy dismissal of any religious merit in the Book of Mormon followed by a prompt rant about a ton of nitpicky and largely peripheral issues amply proves this. I simply can’t take you seriously until I feel you are capable of giving merit where merit is due.

    Kullervo, you are absolutely right. Apologetics’ primary mission, both for Protestants and for Mormons, is to reaffirm the faith of the believer. But that is not a good excuse for dismissing its arguments. Just because it’s apologetics doesn’t mean they aren’t also right on the money on occasion.

  15. Seth R. says:

    Incidentally, the Mormon apologetics I’ve read doesn’t just make the case that it’s “not impossible.” It often successfully makes that case that it’s “not unlikely.”

  16. Seth,

    I imagine Kullervo’s probably right that you didn’t mean to convince us by presenting arguments. I respect that you have a different level of doubt. I personally feel that the Book of Mormon story is very likely to be false, hence my personal figure of 99%. I don’t mean to imply that every rational, intelligent person will feel the same way. I think you’re wrong on this score, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re generally irrational, uninformed, or unintelligent.

  17. E.F. says:

    Very interesting discussion with Seth! I have to say that Seth’s points, particularly #2, made no sense to me.
    Could you be more specific on a few points? You said, “Even items that initially seemed weird, later turned out to be validated as authentically ancient in character…” Can you provide an example?
    You also said, “Then you match the doctrinal complexity, and ancient style of writing with Joseph’s personal background…” What ancient style of writing are you referring to? Language from the King James Bible? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Many parts of Joseph’s ‘translation’ match word for word what the King James Bible says. This doesn’t make it “ancient writing”, it’s called plagerism.
    Also, explain to me what Joseph’s level of education was. From my understanding, he was a well read man, well spoken, a storyteller and his mother was his teacher. Everyone makes it sound like he was an uneducated farmer and that is complete rubbish.

  18. fta says:

    I wonder why no one has actually addressed NOM’s original subject. Anyone up for pointing out which of the D’s Seth and dpc have used in their comments?

  19. Seth R. says:

    Actually, I rather liked the original article. It seemed about right on the essentials. So did my wife and she just pointed out that I’m the one decided to “pick a fight” on this thread. Many pardons.

  20. Although I’m sure it would be profitable to look at Mormon apologetics with this post in mind, I’m personally more concerned about examining my own thoughts and beliefs to see if they are justified in similar ways.

  21. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Seth R:

    then let me restate in a ‘plain & simple’ way:

    The Values of Cristian Living are more important than the medium by which it arrives.
    IMHO LDS tend to focus on the media – ‘conduit'(leaders) then on the message (Values)of Christ-Like living.There is certainly much crossover. BTW, after 40+ yrs, mission & T marriage, I now worship with the Mennonites. It’s ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’.

  22. dpc says:


    I don’t see myself as an apologist as far as Church doctrine is concerned. I can only comment on what I feel confident about. The little I know about Mesoamerica is from having spent time in and around Mexico City. Hardly enough to qualify me as an expert. Therefore, I don’t generally comment on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I have my owns views, heretical though they may be, which, at this point in time, I prefer not to divulge.

    But I think I know enough about philosophy and religion to be able to engage in a meaningful discussion with people on this blog. Both of those concepts are so fluid, that the person who is the questioner one day can easily become the apologist the next.

  23. Nom de Cypher says:

    I have to apologize for posting this and then not engaging in the discussion. Frankly, I had no idea the subject would produce this much interest and debate. That said, let me jump in.

    In response to FTA and Seth, I’ll acknowledge that my original post was somewhat flippant and that this discussion of the roots of faith is more interesting. As Seth points out, my mind is made up, and it will take A LOT of proof to dislodge it now.

    As to the matter of proof supporting faith, I agree somewhat with what I believe is the underlying theme of Seth’s posts. I was a devout member from a strong family until I went to college. There I fell away somewhat based more on social pressure than anything. When I was married, my wife asked me to take a fresh look and renew my faith and efforts. I did. I was quite devout and was married in the temple, with all that that entails. However, since that time, there has been a steady deterioration of my faith in the LDS church, although not in my faith in Christ.
    I don’t suppose my personal list of issues will convince anybody else, but I do subscribe somewhat to notion of the calculus of faith. My biggest problems early on were mistranslations of the BoA and the Kinderhook plates. Later when I looked at the BoM, I saw more anachronisms and mistakes. A few years ago, I made a list of problems that I felt were ‘show-stoppers’. I came up with 48 items. With the more charitable view that comes with time, I would probably remove more than half of those original items, but they have been replaced by others.

    To summarize, I think that there are just too many problems. It’s not that I have an issue with steel in meso-america. It’s that I have an issue with steel AND chariots AND horses AND grains AND million person wars AND the lack of jewish practices AND barges that hold people and animals for a year AND biblical plagarism AND…..

    To summarize my summary, I find that all the things that support what I believe are found in the New Testament. I learn nothing from the Book of Mormon or the other scriptures.

  24. Guy Noir Private Eye says:



  25. Seth R. says:


    Sounds fair enough to me. I agree with you that apologetics isn’t going to suddenly make a believer out of you.

    But I would appreciate it if people would stop calling those of us who do remain practicing LDS deluded tools. We actually do have fairly good grounds for what we believe, and I still don’t think there is much grounds for calling the Book of Mormon an “obvious fraud.” Now, if you just want to call it a “fraud” and leave it at that, be my guest. But “obvious” is not a useful or accurate word to use here.

    So, in short, while I don’t expect to convert anyone, I would at least like to be taken seriously.

  26. Seth R. says:

    An interesting article on the topic of dialogueing with LDS:

    How to Win Friends and Influence Mormons

  27. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    (how’s this?)

    (General Statements)

    a) Mo leaders teach that the gospel has to be practiced in a certain way; but by the time it gets down to individuals, some Glaring Exceptions stick out.
    b) any distictions between ‘MoDoctrine'(such as it is) and MoCulture are quickly lost to the rank-and-file; leaders NEVER (seldom at best) admit-acknowledge them (the ‘unspoken’).

  28. Hellmut says:

    By the way, Seth, nobody here mistakes you for an apologist.

  29. Equality says:

    Seth R. said “When your mind is made up, your mind is made up. That’s as true of Mormonism’s critics as it is of Mormons.”

    Seth, I disagree with this. I was raised in a Protestant home and taught that Mormonism was a dangerous “cult.” In college, I re-examined my faith and became an agnostic as I was seduced by the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I then discovered the Book of Mormon and began investigating the doctrines and history of the LDS Church. After reading about 100 books on Mormonism, including all the standard works, I prayed about the Book of Mormon and had a powerful spiritual experience that convinced me it was true. I was baptized and dedicated the next 17 years of my life to the Mormon cause.

    Over time, I became increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Mormon experience, and once again I began the process of re-examining what I believed and why. Over the last two years, through study, dialogue, reflection, etc. I have come to the conclusion that the LDS Church is not what I thought it was, that my spiritual experiences were not valid means for determining the truth of testable, falsifiable propositions, and that the Book of Mormon is not a literal history of actual people, places, and events.

    So, I went from Protestant critic of Mormonism to disbeliever in all religion to zealous Mormon convert and defender of the faith, to doubter, to heretic, to critic and, I guess, “apostate.” I think people can and do change their minds, even after they have been “made up.”

  1. November 11, 2007

    […] a recent discussion, Hellmut asked Seth R “Why do you think that the probability that the Book of Mormon is true […]

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