The mosaic of apologetics (continued)

In a previous post I explained an observation about apologetics and ultimate contradiction in the apologetic arguments when considered in the mosaic. In this post I aim to give some better and more solid examples than in the first one. (Now that the explanation is over and the space it used is gone!)

Example 1: Inconsistency of treatment of language and meanings: “translation”

Inconsistency: Apologetics spends a lot of time altering the meaning of words to suit the particular argument. In this case I will illustrate the very popular “translate” meanings.


Critical Argument X1: (none)

Apologetic/Formal Statement Y1: The translation of the Book of Mormon was a literal translation, inspired of God, from a physical manuscript (the gold plates), from the ancient language (reformed Egyptian) into English. “Translate”, in the traditional sense.

Critical Argument X2: The content of the papyri used in the Book of Abraham translation when translated by modern Egyptologists turns out to simply be a “book of the dead”, a common Egyptian funerary scroll, and has nothing to do with Abraham.

Apologetic Statement Y2: (From Holland and the essay) The “translation” of the Egyptian papyri was not a literal translation as we use the word, but an inspiration. The Papyri were a “vehicle” for an inspired revelation, but did not contain the actual writings of Abraham.

(Holland) “All I’m saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that I do not understand and don’t claim to know and know Egyptian.”

“Translation” (Please note that the opening lines of the Book of Abraham still say to this day “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.“) — seems pretty literal to me.

Critical Argument X3: Some hoaxers created fake “ancient” plates called the “Kinderhook plates” in 1843 and presented them to Joseph Smith asking for his translation. Joseph claimed that they were authentic ancient plates and gave an interpretation:

“I have translated a portion of [the plates] and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.” (History of the church vol 5. p372) (Potentially William Clayton’s altered statement, still originally a first-hand account)

Later on the Kinderhook plates were proved to be a hoax. Joseph Smith was tricked into thinking they were authentic and translated them accordingly. But they were fake.

Apologetic Statement Y3: The translation done by Joseph Smith was not an inspired but a personal translation. In other words, he was just “speaking from his own opinion” so to say:

“Joseph Smith “translated” a portion of those plates, not by claiming inspiration, but by comparing characters on the plates to those on his “Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language” (GAEL)” …

“We know that Joseph was interested in languages. He studied Greek, Hebrew, and German in a secular manner. Therefore, we can easily believe that he attempted to translate the Kinderhook plates without assuming prophetic powers, which powers consequently remain credible.”

(“Study it out in your mind?” What happens to this now? 🙂 )

Review: I once heard a statement something to the effect of “once you’re debating semantics the argument was already over”. In this apologetic work we have three separate meanings for the word “translation” being extrapolated and used arbitrarily to defend a particular point of view. This does not strike me as consistent or objective. Language and the meanings of words are twisted around to suit whatever apologetic argument is currently at hand. Again, it seems to me that apologetics is not concerned with “finding the truth” through rational debate, but “making something specific true” through rational debate. The conclusion is decided before the debate has even begun — this is not objective truth seeking.

Example 2: Polygamy: doctrinal or not doctrinal?

Inconsistency: Whether Polygamy was a doctrine of the church or not is inconsistently represented by leaders formally.


Critical Argument X1: (general approximation) We have a problem with Joseph Smith marrying multiple women including other people’s wives.

Apologetic Statement Y1: Polygamy was a commandment from God which Joseph Smith had to obey.

“When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.”, “Latter-day Saints’ motives for plural marriage were often more religious than economic or romantic.” (LDS essay)

Critical Argument X2: We still have a problem with Joseph Smith marrying multiple women including other people’s wives.

Larry King: “You condemn it.” (polygamy)

Apologetic Statement Y2: We condemn polygamy because it’s not doctrinal

Gordon B. Hinckley: “I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.”

Review: As far as I know polygamy was illegal in the United States at the time Joseph Smith began to practice it. This would mean receiving a commandment to practice it is a contradiction, because we also believe in “being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law”. (Reminiscent of Adam and Eve — don’t take the fruit but have children)

In any case, we have one prophet saying “I think it is not doctrinal” (one could play with the “I think” part to just say it was Hinckley’s opinion, when a prophet is giving an opinion and when not is another unclear thing…) and other historical records indicating that it was such a serious commandment that God also sent angels to “encourage” Joseph to fulfil the commandment.

Maybe I’ll do some more later

Putting these together takes some time 🙂 Finding good examples that fit more neatly as contradictions is a bit of an effort, and doing the homework / referencing is also time consuming. If there is interest I will do some more later. For now I think the point is made between these two examples and two in the other article. — The point is that apologetics is not consistent in both the methods used for argument and the specific claims made. That’s obviously not to say all apologetics is inconsistent or dishonest. It’s just the overall, high level mosaic that one finds after doing a large amount of apologetic research is not a consistent worldview.

On the other hand, and this should seem obvious by now, I find the mosaic of the “critical” worldview more consistent. Instead of thousands of small mental workarounds for every little issue, many of which are not internally inconsistent, we just have one fixed and consistent statement; it (the church) is not what it claims to be.


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