Last week, at the annual conference for the Foundationfor Apologetic Information & Research, Daniel Peterson had the opportunity to provide insightful commentary on the intersection of apologetics and the growing field of Mormon studies (MS) with his presentation "Of 'MormonStudies' and Apologetics." However, instead of adding significant to the discussion, Peterson chose to blow the opportunity and instead use his presentation as an arena for him to make jabs at persons he particularly dislikes at the moment.
Sitting in the back on the last row of the conference room, I was surprised to find myself a target of Peterson, where he repeatedly misrepresented my positions and arguments, accused me of things I had never said, and plagiarized portions of my own writings. I have no desire to address Petersons theses ("Why I dislike Gerald Bradford and Loyd Ericson, and here are scriptures that I believe defend my polemical apologetics"), I would like to address Peterson's use of me in his presentation.
This is responding to the original online version of his presentation, which can be found here.
Peterson's first quotation from me:
"One enthusiastic proponent of Mormon studies has pointed out what should be obvious, given the general nature of the broader field of religious studies, that 'those engaged in Mormon studies do not necessarily have to be Mormon themselves.'"
Here, Peterson pulls a line from me without context to give the impression that I (or a generic enthusiastic MS proponent) were attempting to make a profound point that would be obvious to any real scholar of religious studies--implying that I am a neophyte in religious studies unaware of "what should be obvious" to real religous studies scholars like Peterson (who proudly follows his quotation of me with "Let me say right away that I believe there is a place for such studies. I, myself, in my writing on Islam, work from within a similar methodology").
To understand that Peterson is misrepresenting me here and elsewhere, I want to first explain my essay that Peterson repeatedly quotes and lifts from. Peterson is quoting from my introductory essay for the inauguratory volume of the Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies, entitled "Where Is the 'Mormon' in Mormon Studies?" This is based on a presentation I gave at a conference at Claremont Graduate University that I conceived of organized in 2010: "What Is Mormon Studies? Transdisciplinary Inquiries into an Emerging Field." Speakers included both Mormons and non-Mormons from various fields and disciplines--including history, philosophy, sociology, CES, religous studies, biblical studies, feminist studies, literature, and publishing--and offered various perspectives that provided lively and thought-provoking discussion on many issues surrounding MS, including whether or not MS existed at all. (It is because of conferences like these that many involved with MS were uninspired by the pontifications of Peterson's friend Bill Hamblin, which not only offers nothing new, but seems oblivious to the work being done in MS, and which is quoted mulitple times by Peterson in his presentation. And I would also add that it is telling that the only two persons I have witnessed make the critical arguments that Hamblin makes are he and Daymon Smith--both of which have clearly percieve themselves as being rejected or not embraced by many actively engaged in MS.)
My presentation at this conference (and the introductory essay of the CJMS issue) was written as a sort of preface to the conference (and journal), exploring the question of how the word "Mormon" was being used to describe MS. (The subtitle of my presentation pointed out three possible variations "Subject, Method, Object.") I begin by saying: "When we say that we are doing Mormon Studies, what do we mean? Is this 'Mormon' descriptive or even prescriptive of the subject—the doer? Is there a type of methodology that is particular to Mormon Studies—the doing? Or is this descriptive of the object that is being studied—the done?" (p. 6; emphasis in original). Thus, my presentation began with a discussion of those persons doing Mormon studies and challenges related to who is doing it. Here are two full sentences, from which Peterson pulls my quotation out of context:
Concerning the subject doing Mormon Studies, it seems clear already that those engaged in Mormon studies do not necessarily have to be a Mormon themselves. For example, our keynote speaker for our conference was Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon scholar who has been writing on Mormon history and culture for nearly half a century—longer than most Mormon-Mormon Studies scholars today. (p. 6; emphasis added)
Far from how Peterson portrays me—as a naive MS enthusiast mistakenly believing that I was pointing out something of interest—I was merely noting this fact for the point I actually wanted to make: that because of the contentious nature of studying religion, the Mormon/non-Mormon background of those doing MS inevitably changes the way in which their work is perceived and utilized. I write:
However, because of the challenging nature of academically studying religion, whether or not the person doing Mormon Studies is Mormon (and how she understands her relationship to Mormonism) is nevertheless a defining factor in what it means for them to be doing Mormon Studies, regardless of the quality of her work. (p. 6)
I then proceed look at a spectrum of perceptions that are cast on those engaged in MS, from suspicion and praise for Mormons doing MS by non-believers to suspicion and praise for non-Mormons by believers.
This brings us to the next misrepresentation of me by Peterson:
Loyd Ericson, a proponent of Mormon studies who has been vocally overjoyed at recent changes—both of direction and of personnel—at the Maxwell Institute, suggested that some people might need to be excluded from the field of Mormon studies. We’re “force[d] . . . to ask the questions,” he wrote, “of who should be allowed to participate, how should it be done, and what should be the objects of these studies. Should boundaries of exclusion be drawn? Or should all—including the evangelizing, the apologists, the revisionists, and the anti-Mormons—be allowed to mingle in the broadest field of Mormon Studies?” (emphasis added)
First of all, I am not “overjoyed” with the new direction of the MI. “Pleased” is perhaps a better way to put it.
Second, I am not arguing that “some people might need to be excluded from the field of Mormon studies,” as Peterson claims.
Here is the paragraph Peterson quotes from in its entirety:
In this inaugural issue of the Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies, we leave the questions of what Mormon Studies is and where the “Mormon” is located largely untouched. Instead, the aim of this journal is to make available the best and most innovative work by graduate students in Mormon Studies—whatever that may be. Nevertheless, the place that “Mormon” plays in Mormon Studies is an inevitable question as submissions are discussed in this journal and most other Mormon Studies conferences, events, lectures, classes, and publications. Its role in various places perhaps forces us to ask the questions of who should be allowed to participate, how should it be done, and what should be the objects of these studies. Should boundaries of exclusion be drawn? Or should all—including the evangelizing, the apologists, the revisionists, and the anti-Mormons—be allowed to mingle in the broadest field of Mormon Studies? (p. 12-13; emphasis added)
It is important to understand here that this is one of the concluding paragraphs in my essay, following a lengthy look at questions and arguments being made in the larger question of what constitutes MS. Not only am I not attempting to answer these questions, I make it explicit that I make no claims on them. To the contrary to Peterson’s implication, I personally argue for an inclusive understanding of MS that is self-defined by the very doing of it (see the last paragraph of my CJMS essay).
While Peterson may attempt to counter that he was non-maliciously merely pointing out that I raise the possibility of such exclusion by acknowledging the various opinions on the matter, the intent of his phrasing should be clear. By such logic I could claim that by pointing out that some Christians wish to exclude Mormons from being called Christian, Peterson “suggested that Mormons might not be Christian.” His rhetorical ploy should be clear.
After taking my concluding paragraphs out of context, Peterson then moves five pages back to the third paragraph of my essay, giving the impression that, instead of leaving the previous questions unanswered, I am answering those questions. He writes:
Of “the Mormon apologists”—who, he wrote under quite different circumstances back in 2011, are “easily best represented by Daniel Peterson and his colleagues in the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University”—Ericson cautions that “While they may at least seem to work within academic standards, there still exists an uneasiness among many about including them into Mormon Studies because of the belief of many academics that Mormon and/or religious studies is a forum for studying, and not promoting or defending, religious beliefs.”
This is taken from my six broad categories of persons doing MS (or the “subjects” that I mentioned at the beginning of my essay), where I attempt to distinguish those like Robert Millett, whose work is primarily theological and pastoral, and almost wholly dependent on testimonial faith claims, from those at the former Maxwell Institute whose work was far more academic, but done to build and defend faith claims:
The second group of subjects is made up of the Mormon apologists. Like the previous group, apologists also make statements of faith explicit in their work. However, unlike the pastoral Mormons, the apologists’ goal is to not just state their faith, but to defend or prove the truth claims of that faith, all the while attempting to do so within parameters of strict academic scholarship. This group is easily best represented by Daniel Peterson and his colleagues in the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University. As the Maxwell Institute’s mission statement puts it, their primary mission includes “Describ[ing] and defend[ing] the Restoration through highest quality scholarship” and “Provid[ing] an anchor of faith in a sea of LDS Studies.” While they may at least seem to work within academic standards, there still exists an uneasiness among many about including them into Mormon Studies because of the belief of many academics that Mormon and/or religious studies is a forum for studying, and not promoting or defending, religious beliefs. (p. 7; emphasis added)
Peterson then makes an egregious misrepresentation by jumping ahead three pages, and pulling a quotation out of context to make it seem that I am addressing apologists:
Ericson allowed, hypothetically, that there might be a “uniquely Mormon methodology” that one could employ in Mormon studies. “This methodology,” he says, “would include a faith or religiously based testimonial as part of one’s argument or discussion. Examples of this might include appealing to one’s own spiritual confirmation of the historical reality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision when discussing the beginnings of Mormonism, basing an understanding of the context of the Book of Mormon off of one’s belief in its ancient origins, or the claim that the growth of the LDS Church is due to the Holy Spirit influencing others to convert to God’s true church.”
Building off of his misrepresentation of me, he continues:
His statement is fascinating. Notice how it equates “appealing to one’s own spiritual confirmation of the historical reality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision when discussing the beginnings of Mormonism” and “claim[ing] that the growth of the LDS Church is due to the Holy Spirit” with “basing an understanding of the context of the Book of Mormon off of one’s belief in its ancient origins.” All of these are subsumed under the notion of “includ[ing] a faith or religiously based testimonial as part of one’s argument or discussion.”
One’s personal spiritual experiences would never constitute appropriate or acceptable evidence in an academic argument, however appropriate they surely are in church, and FARMS and Maxwell Institute authors have never appealed to them in that way. Nor would it be suitable to claim, in a purely secular academic argument, that the Holy Spirit is the cause of any religious trend or event. Methodological naturalism reigns supreme in the general academic world, and for good reason. (Emphasis added).
My claims are only fascinating because Peterson had completely misrepresented them.
Here, Peterson is quoting from an entirely different section of my essay, where I am not necessarily discussing apologists (or any subject in particular), but am rather posing the question of whether there can be a method that could be considered uniquely Mormon. I begin this question beginning with a response to Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers” by DZ Phillips:
In response, D.Z. Phillips, in his “Advice to Philosophers who are Christians,” countered by saying, “in elucidating the surroundings in which belief in God is held fast, the philosopher is not doing something called Christian philosophy. He is simply doing philosophy.” For Plantinga, Christian philosophy is a type of philosophical inquiry which holds a priori certain Christian beliefs. For Phillips it is nonsense to talk of a unique Christian philosophy; rather, there is just philosophy. Anything beyond that, such as “Christian philosophy,” is simply descriptive of Christians using philosophical methodology to explore or argue about Christian beliefs. (p.9)
Like Plantinga we may want to talk of doing Mormon history, Mormon philosophy, Mormon sociology, Mormon anthropology, Mormon cultural studies, and so on. However, in doing so are we saying that there is a uniquely Mormon way of doing these things? Or are we just doing history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, etc.? (p. 10; emphasis in original)
It is here that I hypothesize what a uniquely Mormon method might be if there were to be one:
There still seems to be a uniquely Mormon methodology that one could use in Mormon Studies—though whether or not it ought to be included (or ought to be excluded) is a question still to be explored. This methodology would include a faith or religiously based testimonial as part of one’s argument or discussion. . . . [B]ecause testimonials may have a tendency to hinder, rather than encourage, discussion, both pastoral and anti-Mormons have largely been excluded from Mormon Studies events. (p.10; emphasis in original)
Contrary to Peterson’s implying that I was talking about apologetics, this last sentence makes it clear that I was referring to those I labeled pastoral Mormons and anti-Mormons, whose testimonial claims are often reason for exclusion. Far from making some fascinating claim that Peterson has to point out “would never constitute appropriate or acceptable evidence in an academic argument,” I explicitly and repeatedly point out that such a methodology is generally used as grounds for exclusion from religious studies. In fact I spend the next few paragraphs discussing why that is the case, problems that arise from it, and the infamous [bracketing] of religious beliefs that many in religious studies have adopted. However, and I still argue for this, that those who approach Mormonism from a purely faith/testimonial approach be allowed to participate when they “are invited as such, and not regardless of. For example, an LDS General Authority may be invited to speak with the understanding that he is speaking as a denominational representative, and not as a scholar” (p. 10).
Regardless of whether or not they are involved, I never—as Peterson “fascinatingly” implies I do—claim that a testimony would “constitute appropriate or acceptable evidence in an academic argument.”
I should note though, that Peterson’s claim that “FARMS and Maxwell Institute authors have never appealed to them in that way” is simply false. Take, for example, this footnote from S. Kent Brown’s “The Temple in Luke and Acts” in the feschrift for Truman Madsen, edited by Peterson:
Virtually all studies on the New Testament Gospels conclude that the Gospel accounts were written anonymously and that the names of authors were attached only later. Moreover, most scholars now conclude that each of the Gospels was produced by the efforts of more than one person—in effect, by schools. As for myself, I accept the traditional ascription of Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts to Paul's companion, Luke the Physician.
If I cared to take the time I could point out dozens of instances, where folks at the FARMS/MI have appealed to ultimately faith-based dependencies (primarily on the Book of Mormon and LDS scripture) as a basis for rejecting scholarly consensus on things such as Mosaic authorship of the Torah, Second Isaiah, New Testament authorship, biblical criticism in general, etc.
Having misrepresented my CJMS essay, Peterson then goes on to misrepresent something else I had written. He writes:
In an online exchange with me back in 2010, Loyd Ericson argued that any apologetic effort attempting to defend the antiquity of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham inescapably makes faulty assumptions about the verifiability of those texts. Why? Because the versions of these scriptures that we have today are in English and date from the nineteenth century, and because we do not possess (and, hence, cannot examine) the putative original-language texts from which they are claimed to have been translated. Accordingly, he said, they cannot plausibly be read, used, tested, or analyzed as ancient historical documents. They can only be read as documents of the nineteenth century, as illustrations of, and in the light of, that period. This, he claimed, is an insurmountable problem.
First of all, what Peterson is alluding to here is not from a conversation I had with him, but with one that I had with my friend bhodges (who I believe actually more-or-less agrees with me now) wherein I linked to a term paper thatI had written while at Claremont for Richard Bushman. Peterson incorrectly claims that I argue that simply because the original gold-plates text of the Book of Mormon is unavailable, we cannot plausibly read, use, test, or analyze them as ancient historical documents.
Once again, Peterson establishes a straw man to publicly contend with instead of presenting my actual argument. I never say that LDS scripture cannot be read as ancient historical documents simply because the original texts are unexaminable. To the contrary, I am actually making an apologetic claim against criticisms of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon that assume a formal understanding of translation. My criticism against the FARMS-style apologetic approach is that by attempting to prove the chronosity (doubt that’s a real word) of the Book of Mormon they uphold faulty assumptions about the Book of Mormon as a translation. Both the critic and the FARMS apologist are guilty. The critic points to the Book of Mormon and says “If this were a real translation of an ancient text, then why is X in the Book of Mormon.” The FARMS apologist responds by pointing to something in the Mesoamerica, and says “X is a translation of this.” (John Sorenson performedthis repeatedly in his FAIR presentation). My criticism is that both hold an unnecessary understanding of “translation” in doing so. Both assume they really know what X is referring to. The problem is not simply one of not having access to the original text (which is a problem even when dealing with particularities of a transmitted text that is not translated)—I wholeheartedly agree that translated documents as a whole can be “read, used, tested, or analyzed as ancient historical documents.” My contention is that unlike the list of texts Peterson points to in his FARMS Review response to me, with the Book of Mormon we have nothing that gives us any sense of how to understand the Book of Mormon as an untranslated text—despite what the FARMS apologist may want to argue, we have no certain knowledge of Mormon’s culture, language, and geography. While Nephi may have come from Jerusalem, Mormon’s language and culture a thousand years later would have changed dramatically—especially if they were a minor population mixed into a much large group as the DNA apologists wish to argue. The only sources for this are the Book of Mormon’s own description—which beg the question of its sense of being a translation and Joseph Smith’s few purported claims, which are largely discounted by the FARMS apologists (location of Cumorah, comments about Lamanites, Zelph, etc). Furthermore, the Book of Mormon’s “translation” is wholly different than any other sense of “translation.” I write:
The translation process for these scriptures is clearly something completely different from a traditional translation of texts from one language to another. With the latter, the process involves at least two things: an original text which is directly used as a source and a translation key or knowledge of two languages the language of the original text and the language of the translation. . . .The problem with calling the Mormon scriptures “translations” is that the process from which the English texts came forth did not include these two requirements. For at least the Book of Mormon and Book of Moses (and possibly the Book of Abraham), Joseph Smith did not directly use or (even have) the original texts. . . . Furthermore, not only did Smith not use the original texts, he did not have the linguistic skills or tools which are used in any standard translation. . . . Without either working with original texts or standard translation practices, these Mormon scriptures are perhaps better understood as revelations and not translations. (p. 6-7)
Thus, I conclude:
while the apologists for Mormon scripture may claim that they are not trying to “prove” the truthfulness of the scriptures, their very approaches to these texts are based on an assumption that the historical, and thus divine, authenticity of the texts must be supportable by means of empirical verification. This assumption is problematic due to the revelatory nature of the texts, which may not reflect any verifiable history in themselves other than the nineteenth-century context in which they came forth. By imposing their apologetic assumptions on the text, the apologists are ultimately guilty of friendly fire by creating unnecessary expectations for the scriptures, confusing their religious truthfulness for historical authenticity, and displacing that religious truthfulness with that which is not spiritual. (p. 10-11)
Peterson next attributes the following to me:
A few members of the church appear to reject apologetics in principle, regarding it as inevitably, no matter how charitably and competently it is done, more detrimental than beneficial. They seem to do so on the basis of something resembling fideism, the view that faith is independent of reason, and even that reason and faith are incompatible with each other. “The words reasoning and evidence trouble me,” Loyd Ericson said to me during our Internet discussion. They seem, he said, to imply that things like Hebraisms and the NHM inscription will validate my commitment to Mormonism. This is absolutely and patently untrue and false. Reasoning and so-called evidences are illusions, in a world that requires faith. There is no rationale for angels, gold plates, and a corporeal Divine visit(s). There is no rationale for a resurrection, atonement, or exaltation. These things defy reason and logic. There is no possible evidence for these things either. My faith, my redemption, my happiness/peace are the reasons and evidence for my devotion.
The problem with this is that not only was this not a discussion I had with Peterson,it was said in a discussion involving someone who is not me with someone who isnot Peterson and offers a position that I do not wholly share.
Building off his eager misrepresentations and false claims about me, Peterson boldly announced to the gleeful crowd of apologists:
“Furthermore, in my judgment, Loyd Ericson is simply wrong. There is, in fact, a rational case to be made for such propositions as the actual existence of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon and the resurrection of Christ.”
Besides the fact that, “in my judgement,” Peterson is wrong about most of what he has said about me, his claim that there is “a rational case to be made” about these things begs me to ask, “So?” If we ignore Peterson’s strawman of fideism (which even the actual author of the above quotation now disregards), what pride is there in saying that a rational argument case can be made? My nephew can make a rational case for the existence of Santa. Dan Vogel can make a rational case for the non-existence of the plates. I have made what could be seen as arational argument for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But even if those things were proven, I again ask, “So?”What if it can be proven that Joseph had the plates before they were taken by an angel, or that Jesus rose from the tomb? Does that prove the divinity of Joseph’s calling, the truthfulness of the Church, the “correctness” of the “translation,” the love of God, anything about the atonement, about resurrection of humanity (or of even Jesus)?
Finally, despite Peterson’s attempt to castigate me as an enemy in front of his friends at the conference, I’m quite honored (but not really) that he lifted several of my own sources from my CJMS essay for his presentation, including some minor plagiarism surrounding one of the quotes.
In my CJMS essay, I quoted Alvin Plantinga:
In his essay “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Alvin Plantinga argued that “we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers.” (p. 9; emphasis added)
Peterson this quote and its surrounding text word-for-word, inserting a brief description of Plantinga in the middle:
In his essay “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame, indisputably among the preeminent Christian philosophers of our time, argued that “we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers.” (emphasis added; his additional words in bold)
It’s not much, but had he been a student of mine, I would have given the “Well, this is technically plagiarism, rewrite this part” talk.
His quotation a few lines down from the former MI statement is from me (which he at least correctly attributed).
And his “A couple of almost randomly chosen religious studies programs” really aren’t that random at all, since he used the UNC-Chapel Hill statement after seeing it on my essay (11).
There could be more, but I’ve already wasted too much time on this response.