Elder Holland on LDS Apologetics

Recent weeks have been interesting for the unofficial, highly heterogeneous and sometimes contradictory cluster of so-called “LDS apologists.” I fall into that motley group. In fact, I was doing LDS apologetics online since the early 1990s — long before LDS apologetics became cool. (That’s a somewhat futuristic statement: the date of “becoming cool” is roughly March 18, 2045, based on my hopeful projections.)

First we had the Church provide a useful list of external resources for study on a page called “Gospel Topics, Essays, and Other Resources,” published in the Seminary area. Under the section, “Gospel Study Resources,” the Maxwell Institute website is listed, where one can find decades of great LDS apologetics along with their more recent emphasis on Mormon studies. The link is provided in this manner:

The single asterisk means that the website is “maintained by a third party that is affiliated with the Church,” which is BYU in this case.

In the following section, “Additional Resources for Answering Doctrinal, Historical, and Social Questions,” the list of resources includes several that are of interest to LDS apologetics:

  • Book of Mormon Central**:
    Information that was created to explain, engage, inspire, and encourage
    greater knowledge and appreciation of every aspect of the Book of

  • FairMormon**: Well-reasoned and faithful responses to doctrinal, historical, and social questions.
  • Mormon Scholars Testify**: Messages of faith from scholars who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • The Interpreter Foundation**:
    Nonprofit, independent, educational organization that focuses on the
    scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They
    publish a peer-reviewed journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

Here the double asterisk means the sites “are maintained by a third party that is unaffiliated with the Church.”

I was quite happy to see these resources listed at LDS.org. I find Book of Mormon Central. FAIRMormon, and The Interpreter (MormonInterpreter.com) to be extremely useful in exploring and understanding the LDS faith, even if I don’t always agree with some of their content (as demonstrated by my recent criticisms of a recent three-part series at The Interpreter). By the way, the Interpreter just published my review of Brian Stubbs’ outstanding work. See Jeff Lindsay, “The Next Big Thing in LDS Apologetics: Strong Semitic and Egyptian Elements in Uto-Aztecan Languages,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 26 (2017): 227-267. There are some good questions already that I am trying to respond to.

Then on August 16, 2017, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve dared to show his face at an apologetics fest of sorts at BYU, the celebration of 50 years of chiasmus research in the Book of Mormon. He not only showed his face, he spoke to teeming crowd (I wasn’t there, but can only imagine the throngs of LDS folks and investigators keenly interested, as they should be, in this inspiring area of Book of Mormon scholarship — there could have been literally dozens, for all I know). Not only did he speak, but a transcript of his important remarks were quickly posted at the Church’s news site, MormonNewsroom.org. I am not kidding! And not dreaming, either. See “Transcript: Elder Holland Speaks at Book of Mormon Chiasmus Conference” at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-holland-speaks-book-of-mormon-chiasmus-conference-2017.

Elder Holland had much to say about intellectual defense of the Gospel. Here are some excerpts, but please read his entire speech:

I wish to say at the outset that the presiding officers
of the Church appreciate and applaud the exceptional work being done by
so many to search and to substantiate, to defend and promulgate the
history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
including and especially the Book of Mormon, in a way both scholarly
and spiritual. Obviously one of the influential, representative figures
in this generation of such work is our friend and colleague John W.
Welch, being honored tonight. I have known and loved Jack and other
members of the Welch family for at least 40 of the 50 years we are
commemorating. In deference to the clock I will not recount all of his
academic accomplishments (much of which has been referenced here
tonight), but suffice it to say, Jack, that the Brethren are grateful
for your faith, your loyalty, your productivity, and what is
increasingly your scholarly legacy in defending the kingdom of God. That
compliment is, of course, extended to a legion of other men and women
across the Church who are putting their shoulders to the wheel of
reasoned, determined, persuasive gospel scholarship.

I would also like to thank the many donors and other supporters who have
aided the scholarly pursuit and publication of materials important to
the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days….

He then goes on to explain why it is important to have intellectual reasons and tools to defend the Gospel, and explains that testimony involves both heart and mind, affirming the need for intellectual understanding to help support faith and overcome the obstacles to faith. In other words, there is a need for LDS apologetics. Thank you, Elder Holland!

Regarding the defense of the faith through scholarship and intellectual argument, the domain of apologetics, I’ve heard a variety of misconceptions over the years. Some LDS voices say the Church is embarrassed by apologetics and thus refuses to give credibility to those efforts. On the other hand, some say the Church relies heavily on apologetics to defend the Book of Mormon, for example, to support missionary work and keep members believing, but due to the weakness of the LDS position, the Church officially keeps a large distance publicly from apologists. That way, when apologetic efforts fail miserably, the Church can ignore the problem and avoid direct embarrassment.

Critics often ask why the Church doesn’t directly do the work of apologists and get involved in an official way in issues like Book of Mormon geography or other issues in apologetics. The answer to me seems rather simple. As in most major religions, central leadership is involved in the administrative and spiritual aspects of running a religion. Dealing with the endless arguments against faith that can be made and responding to critical works ranging from deep scholarship to lurid rumor-mongering is simply not the primary focus of headquarters, and must rely on others. Scholars, schools, and publishers may be encouraged and helped in various ways, but the secular arguments and scholarship needed to better understand or perhaps buttress the faith is not something that normally is handled directly by official efforts from headquarters. There are counterexamples, of course, but in general, it is entirely reasonable that the details of say, the defense of the Bible against the claims of “biblical minimalists” should be left to outside scholars.

The Church usually does not need to take official positions on matters of science and scholarship. It can proclaim that God created man without needing to decide how the Creation accounts can be squared with modern science. It can declare that the Book of Mormon is a genuine, ancient document delivered to us through the power of God, without taking official positions on the significance of Hebraic poetry like chiasmus or resolving the location of Zarahemla or the specific animal species that Book of Mormon writers were looking at when they described “horses,” “wild goats,” or “cureloms” in the New World.

While the Church did turn to a variety of scholars for input in responding to popular criticisms of the Book of Mormon based on DNA research and issued a helpful “Gospel Topics” paper, “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies,” that exceptional paper still leaves most of the thinking to us and primarily serves to remind us of how much we don’t know. Likewise, regarding chiasmus, the Church does not need to take a position on its use and significance in the Book of Mormon. But it’s cool, very cool, that Elder Holland would come to the jubilee celebrating the discovery of chiasmus and give a pro-apologetics speech while there.

It’s been an interesting month for LDS apologetics, a field on its way to one day, perhaps — who knows? — becoming cool.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

34 thoughts on “Elder Holland on LDS Apologetics

  1. I was there at the chiasmus event–it was an amazing evening, not only "teeming" with the thousand seats in the Joseph Smith Building filled, but broadcast to three overflow auditoriums and filmed. Elder Holland was full of praise and compliments for LDS scholarship and apologetics, and President Uchtdorf was slated to attend initially but had a schedule change with the Tucson temple dedication. It felt like endorsement from on high for these efforts.

  2. I wonder how helpful apologetics has been for the church. The people who endorse apologetic arguments are the people who would be committed to the church no matter what, and the doubters aren’t persuaded by apologetic arguments. Regarding the latter, I find arguments persuasive when I am capable of evaluating their merit, which is why I’m not persuaded by arguments that rely on highly specialized knowledge or arcane references. How could I know whether or not Uto-Aztecan languages are related to Egyptian? All I know is that the people who claim so have an agenda, and I have to wonder why non Mormon scholars didn’t discover it first.

    Who is the apologists’ target audience? It seems to be mostly other apologists. The average member is largely unaware of the apologists’ work, and the increasing reliance on arcana effectively turns off engagement with doubters, which sometimes seems to be the motivation for it.

  3. Different people have different needs. I know of many people who hit roadblocks in their faith, either as members or investigators, and found the help they needed to move forward through apologetics. I've also known many who left the Church over arguments that could have been easily answered with good apologetics. One woman I know came back swiftly after a reasonable answer was given, but others, once away long enough, seem to be past discussing the merits of the reasons they left. Best to give them a chance to see another angle before they abandon hope and leave.

    The discovery of chiasmus and its impact on understanding the Book of Mormon has been remarkably useful to the Church, perhaps not so much for retaining members or bringing in investigators, but for enhancing the appreciation of the Book of Mormon among those who wish to study it. Chiasmus has been a valuable addition to the education of many Saints, and is a great example of what good scholarship can do. Arcane at first, perhaps, but for some it has become a precious gem in the Book of Mormon that helps us better understand the scriptures. Good scholarship often provides the best apologetics material, though sometimes unintentionally. Ideally the two can't be easily separated.

  4. Anita, thanks for the firsthand report. Glad to see that there was a big crowd. The discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and the abundant scholarship around it has been one of the great chapters in Book of Mormon studies, and provides one of many meaningful sources of evidence for its ancient Semitic origins, including examples with Hebraic wordplays that are all the more impressive given that Joseph Smith had not studied Hebrew before the translation of the Book of Mormon.

  5. I had some time to read a couple of your linked articles above, and the one that struck me the most was the official church article on DNA. It stood out to me because I recognized a trend I have been noticing in many recent official church releases on different subjects. The church seems to be focusing on, rather than proving the truth, casting doubt on secular research. I'm wondering when that shift took place? I don't remember that approach in my younger years. It may be that I just wasn't paying attention previously. A religion of faith as a purveyor of doubt seems antithetical. Just curious if anyone else has noticed this trend?

  6. The discovery of chiasmus and its impact on understanding the Book of Mormon has been remarkably useful to the Church, perhaps not so much for retaining members or bringing in investigators, but for enhancing the appreciation of the Book of Mormon among those who wish to study it.

    I agree; the richness of the Book of Mormon is enhanced by it, and I commend Welch and others for their work in this area. I don't find chiasmus to be definitive evidence for ancient Semitic origin because it also occurs in the Doctrine and Covenants, which does not purport to be an ancient Semitic book, but I think its discovery puts the book of Mormon in a more positive light. The subject of chiasmus doesn't belong to the category of arcana that I referenced above, in my opinion, because it's more accessible to the interested lay person than the example I already gave above.

    As for the value of apologetics, we have only anecdotal evidence, so it's difficult to know the overall impact. I'm sure there's a lot of good scholarship produced by people who identify as apologists, but often apologists engage in practices that would be swiftly criticized by mainstream scholars. One of these is to make their case appear as strong as possible by only presenting confirmatory evidence and leaving it to others to deal with negative evidence. Example: some apologists who shall remain nameless used to cite the existence of haplotype X in a way that would lead lay people to consider it as genetic evidence for Book of Mormon plausibility. These same apologists then dismissed haplotype X as evidence for Book of Mormon origin after Rodney Meldrum used it as evidence for a heartland setting. Using a piece of evidence to strengthen your case when you know that piece of evidence doesn't really support your case is unscholarly. Scholarship isn't just digging deep and citing a bunch of facts that support a thesis. There are standards used by scholars that are sometimes used by apologists and sometimes not. The scholar has the burden of probing his own case for weakness and not just leaving it to others to discover, especially if he is already aware of those weaknesses himself.

  7. Regarding why the LDS church leaves the most active apologetics work to amateurs and volunteers, consider this from the Wikipedia essay on John Boyd, a military strategist and architect of the OODA Loop:

    "Boyd hypothesized that all intelligent organisms and organizations undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with their environment. Boyd breaks this cycle down to four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one cycles continuously:

    Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses
    Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one's current mental perspective
    Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one's current mental perspective
    Action: the physical playing-out of decisions

    "Of course, while this is taking place, the situation may be changing. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a planned action in order to meet the changes. This decision cycle is thus known as the OODA loop. Boyd emphasized that this decision cycle is the central mechanism enabling adaptation (apart from natural selection) and is therefore critical to survival.

    "Boyd theorized that large organizations such as corporations, governments, or militaries possessed a hierarchy of OODA loops at tactical, grand-tactical (operational art), and strategic levels. In addition, he stated that most effective organizations have a highly decentralized chain of command that utilizes objective-driven orders, or directive control, rather than method-driven orders in order to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level. In 2003, this power to the edge concept took the form of a DOD publication "Power to the Edge: Command … Control … in the Information Age" by Dr. David S. Alberts and Richard E. Hayes. Boyd argued that such a structure creates a flexible "organic whole" that is quicker to adapt to rapidly changing situations. He noted, however, that any such highly decentralized organization would necessitate a high degree of mutual trust and a common outlook that came from prior shared experiences. Headquarters needs to know that the troops are perfectly capable of forming a good plan for taking a specific objective, and the troops need to know that Headquarters does not direct them to achieve certain objectives without good reason."

    The point being, the individual apologist can react and respond far more quickly than can headquarters. Really, what we do it just good practice, the best use of resources.

  8. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back, folks, you're all doing a great job. Meanwhile, my family of 6 and I are headed out the door. This nonsense has gone on long enough. It just doesn't hold water and the leadership flat out lies, all the while exploiting the poor by siphoning tithing money right into their own pockets. The general authorities are well paid employees! You've been lied to! So-called Book of Mormon evidences do not hold water when put under actual scrutiny by anyone outside the circle of acolytes. I feel sorry for all of you people wasting your time, money, and LIFE.

  9. Anon, I'm sorry you and your family are leaving. I hope you'll reconsider and rely on more reliable evidence than the emotion-laden claims of critics. For example, the claim you raise about exploiting the poor is objectively fallacious given the Church's welfare system and abundant efforts to help the poor. Your feeling about the living stipend for General Authorities being too high may not be as grounded as you feel. The claims of critics, always insisting that they have inside information, has resulted in constantly escalating numbers without basis. Have you considered some basics such as FAIRMormon's response to these claims regarding salaries?

    This type of criticism seems intended to imply that General Authorities perform their duties out of greed, rather than sincere belief. This seems implausible, given that most are at or beyond retirement age when called, and many have been highly successful outside of Church service….

    The numbers suggested have consistently escalated over time, despite an absence of hard data.

    Those who provide such accounts attempt to make normal practices seem nefarious or hidden.

    The Church has not hidden the fact that general authorities receive a stipend, and there is scriptural warrant for the practice.

    I hope you'll re-evaluate your reasons for leaving and not be stirred up by unreliable perspectives or claims.

  10. The numbers suggested have consistently escalated over time, despite an absence of hard data.

    There's an easy way to end that. The church could reveal how much stipend the general authorities receive. That wouldn't be an unreasonable thing to do.

  11. "Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than the arguments of its opposers." —-William Penn

  12. Anonymous 1:22 AM, August 24, 2017 –

    Your response comes off a little bit like a ‘false flag’ criticism. Yes, Mormon seminary instructors and high leadership receive a small amount pay, but for all practical purposes the LDS Church does not have a paid clergy. Though mismanaged in the past, Church funds are managed better today. Investing in things such a commercial shopping mall is wise preservation of the trust fund’s capital. But how interest on the trust is spent is the area for thoughtful inspection.

    Why did Mormon mothers who were counseled to stay at home with their numerous children work part time jobs to fund the Church? Why did an LDS Apostle claim he was oblivious to the household stress the demands of the Church created? If living a semi law of consecration, what financial return are elderly Mormon’s receiving after decades of donating to the Church in amounts that often equaled a third of household income? Typically, labor is an organization’s largest cost. If there is no paid clergy, then why even demand a voluntary taxation of 10%? If the Wasatch front is voluntarily taxing itself an additional 10%, then why are these funds not used to build mental hospitals for the literally thousands of drug-addicted and mentally ill zombies roaming Salt Lake – the worst I have seen in America?

  13. Mormanity –

    You are an apologist ??? Prove it by finally answer this question:

    How do you prove the foundational claim of Mormonism that another religion is evil? Mormonism claims that other churches are “whores”, “great and abominable”, “that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’”, and protestant ministers are in the employ of Satan. How does Mormonism’s prove these claims in a way that cannot also be used against Mormonism also?

  14. … to Mormography's point, there's a very helpful saying I once heard as I was transitioning out of the church:
    The good things about the mormon church are not unique, and the unique things about the mormon church are not good.

  15. Anon@2:00pm, thanks for using a mini-chiasmus, reminding us that the abundance of chiasmus and ancient Hebrew poetical and linguistic elements evident in the Book of Mormon, good as they are, are not unique. But the presence of the ancient in that text or in the temple or in other parts of the Church is not meant to be unique, but a restoration.

    Though they have ancient roots or can be found in various forms across history, some of the good things in the Church are still often viewed as rather unique or unusual in some ways in our day. For example, the Church's welfare program can be viewed that way. Ditto for Family Home Evening, the Book of Mormon itself, the Church's emphasis on education including subsidizing opportunities for many, the restoration of basic teachings on the nature of God and the divine potential of man, etc. is your problem that you don't think these things are good or think they are commonplace today?

  16. One of the best and most beautiful and unique (in our day) aspects of the Church is the doctrine of God's fairness and mercy expressed in the concept of baptism for the dead. What grandeur and justice is revealed in this! The turning of our hearts to our fathers and mothers and ancient ancestors as we learn about their lives and do something beautiful on their behalf is transcendently good even if you question its validity. Good and unique in these days, like many things in the Church.

  17. Mormanity – I see, if you are an apologist you are an extremely poor one. You cannot defend the most basic foundational claims of Mormonism. The War In Heaven was a war of words. You appear to be on the losing side.

  18. Mormon Apologetics would be much better if some apologists, one in particular named Daniel Peterson, would quit using ad hominen attacks, snark, and condescension against those he does not like. He does more harm than good.

    He behaves exactly like those he decries.

    Peterson is even worse on his blog. He is a foot stomping, willfully ignorant, arrogant, infantile, thin skinned, intolerant hypocrite.

    He is the names he calls others, especially the derogatory terms and cuss words he calls people when he becomes unhinged in his blog. He plays identy politics, just as the liberal left does, when his narrow views are challenged.

    He never tries, nor wants to see or recognize other view points and opinions because he is absolutely right and any opposing views are wrong, even when he is presented with facts that contradict him.

    Alex Haley plagerized the majority of his book "Roots". Haley's reputation is protected to this very day.

    "Other churches are whores, great and abominable". They are. The Catholic Church removed a statue I'd Jesus at a Catholic school because communist left Liberals were offended. The Catholics gave in to hate from the communist liberal left. And I fear the LDS church will do the same. The LDS church leaders already leans communist left Liberal like the pope.
    Other Christian denominations have moved away from Biblical teachings and are caving to the communist left Liberals.

  19. You are right about Peterson, 12:09, but I'm afraid your political ramblings have left me scratching my head. Maybe turn off the radio and look to more level-headed news sources.

  20. Anons must be talking about a different Peterson, because I've read some presentations on FAIR by the LDS apologist by that name, and he's nothing like what they're claiming.

    And as far as Mormography's claim about the claim that another religion is evil – he's twisting a few different statements relating to different things.

    …other churches are “whores”, “great and abominable”…
    “that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’”
    …protestant ministers are in the employ of Satan.

    The first is from 1 Nephi and is talking about the church of the devil, which is any church or group that directly opposes the work of God. Of course this would be evil. Notice, however, that no actual church/group is specified – especially not the Catholic church, which some think this is referring to.
    The second is from Joseph Smith's First Vision, and is referring to the other churches around at Joseph Smith's time. It's not saying they're evil, just corrupt and not truly invested in the work of God. And indeed, the actions attributed to them by Smith do seem pretty un-Christlike (JS-H 1:6, 9).
    The third I can't say much about because I've never heard it; I'm sure that's not a mainstream viewpoint.

  21. Just realized that "corrupt" could still be taken to mean "evil." When I said "corrupt" in that last comment I essentially meant "impure."

  22. The third is from the discontinued endowment ceremony, but thank you for corroborating and admitting the others are real.

    According to you, a young Joseph Smith today could join another Christian Church as those churches are no longer corrupt, and would reject the Mormon Church due to un-Christ like attitudes. Am I just twisting things?

    If I am just twisting things, as you claim, then please tell me what your rejection criteria of other religions is? Or is the LDS Church one of many paths towards Christ?

  23. According to you, a young Joseph Smith today could join another Christian Church as those churches are no longer corrupt, and would reject the Mormon Church due to un-Christ like attitudes. Am I just twisting things?

    I would have to say yes, because I have no idea how you got that out of what I posted. I didn't say anything like that, nor did I imply it.
    We believe the other churches are still 'corrupt' in a way – i.e. impure (as per my correction) – since as far as I know they haven't changed their beliefs since Smith's day. We don't deny, however, that many of the followers of the other churches are sincere in their beliefs, and as a whole aren't trying to destroy the faith of others.
    All churches (including the LDS church) will undoubtedly have its bad apples, but when its professors or leaders are behaving the way Joseph described in his history, I would probably be pretty confused too.

    If I am just twisting things, as you claim, then please tell me what your rejection criteria of other religions is?
    Personal testimony and revelation mainly, but also intellectual study and upbringing.

  24. Ha, you could not answer the question. You could not produce your rejection criteria. You lose.

    I am twisting, because I use the word 'evil' instead of your preferred 'impure'… Pretty, pretty lame … Stick to your day job.

  25. No, the twisting is because you are either taking statements involving different things and interpreting them to mean something that neither of them truly mean, or finding something in someone's statement (in this case mine) that was not there. Using 'evil' instead of 'impure' or 'corrupt' is not twisting in and of itself, but it would be if you persisted after it was clarified or corrected.

    Ha, you could not answer the question. You could not produce your rejection criteria. You lose. … Pretty, pretty lame.
    I gave you my rejection criteria, I'm sorry you don't agree with them. I think I'm done interacting with you if you're just going to start resorting to inflammatory insults once again.

  26. I mentioned it in another comment thread, but I just want to make this clear here as well (since I'm 99% sure Mormography means me when s/he refers to 'Twisted Sister'):

    I'm a "he."

  27. "noted for their sense of slapstick humor. Many of the band's songs explore themes of parent vs. child conflicts and criticisms of the educational system."

  28. Mormanity quote: “you seem to take such great offense at small things …. you would do well to chill and not be so easily offended “

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