Question: Why do Mormon apologetics?

Table of Contents

Question: Why do Mormon apologetics?

Apologists participate for a variety of reasons

Apologists participate for a variety of reasons. They may:

  • have an interest in Church history and doctrine
  • have a background in the study of ancient languages or other religions which give a useful perspective on the restored gospel
  • experience frustration with anti-Mormon authors who ignore the totality of LDS doctrine and thought
  • wish to protect others from poorly-reasoned criticisms, thus preventing others from enduring the suffering which anti-Mormon attacks have caused in the apologist's own life, or the lives of friends or family
  • want to enhance their own knowledge of Church doctrine or history
  • need information to improve their ability to share the gospel with others who have sincere questions or misunderstandings
  • enjoy the company of other like-minded Church members, who are interested in the same sorts of issues
  • serve in Church leadership positions which require them to address questions

Is it appropriate for a Church member to be involved in apologetics?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that since enemies have invoked 'science' or 'reason' to attack faith, it may now be necessary that someone respond in the same vein:

To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. [1]

Indeed, the great risk which apologetics seeks to counter is that those unfamiliar with anti-Mormon arguments will assume that there are no good answers to the critics. Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned of the consequences of such a situation:

Let us be articulate for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions. [2]

Since you can't "prove" religion, is apologetics a waste of time?

Dallin H. Oaks spoke to this concern:

The lack of decisive scientific proofs of scriptural truths does not preclude gospel defenders from counterarguments of that nature. When opponents attack the Church or its doctrines with so-called proofs, loyal defenders will counter with material of a comparable nature to defend. [3]

And, Neal A. Maxwell noted that God would provide fascinating additions to our understanding:

There will be a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along…[I] do not expect incontrovertible proof to come in this way…, but neither will the Church be outdone by hostile or pseudo-scholars. [4]

Apologetics does not aim to "create belief": It aims only to dispense with the poor reasons given by critics for disbelief

Austen Farrar said, of C.S. Lewis:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. [5]

Apologetics does not aim to "create belief"—it aims only to dispense with the poor reasons given by critics for disbelief. As Elder Maxwell put it, the critics ought not to be permitted "uncontested slam-dunks." [6]


Notes

  1. C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 27-28; cited by James S. Jardine, “Consecration and Learning,” in On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 77.
  2. Neal A. Maxwell, "'All Hell Is Moved," in 1977 Devotional Speeches of the Year (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 179.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 92.
  4. Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 49.
  5. Cited by Neal A. Maxwell, "Discipleship and Scholarship," Brigham Young University Studies 32 no. 3 (1992), 5. PDF link
  6. Neal A. Maxwell, cited in Gilbert W. Scharffs, "Some people say it is best to leave alone materials that claim to 'expose' the Church and its teachings. What counsel has been given on this? How do we respond when a friend comes to us with questions found in such materials?," Ensign (January 1995), 60 (scroll half-way down). off-site