An Open Letter To William Lane Craig

 

June 23, 2019

To Dr. William Lane Craig:

Dear Dr. Craig,

I have followed your work for some years now as my interest in philosophical theology has grown. I have sporadically listened to your podcast and have read a number of both your online and print publications. I have watched a number of your debates with prominent atheists on the question of God’s existence. I have even listened to you speak in person. A year ago you shared a stage with Jordan Peterson and Rebecca Goldstein at the University of Toronto debating the question: “Is There Meaning to Life?” I was in the audience on that occasion. For the most part I have found you to be a fine public speaker, a persuasive debater, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. I have not always agreed with your arguments, but as a fellow theist I have at least always appreciated that you have so vocally defended the existence of God.

There is one area, however, where, I must confess, I have found your reasoning and argumentative abilities so woefully impaired that I feel compelled to air a few of my thoughts (for whatever they might be worth). 

That area is how you discuss the claims of “Mormonism,” so-called, or more properly the beliefs and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The catalyst for my decision to write to you was when a close friend of mine who is entering a PhD program in philosophy at Texas A&M University sent me a link to your May 26, 2019 podcast episode on “Mormon” Transhumanism. I listened to your interview with Mr. Kevin Harris with attentiveness. I was previously aware of your chapter in The New Mormon Challenge critiquing the Latter-day Saint concept of Creation, and even though I disagreed with your critique, I thought perhaps you might have something interesting to say in this episode.

I was, however, greatly disappointed with what I heard. 

I shall not endeavor here to list all of my complaints with your most recent podcast discussing “Mormon” Transhumanism. If I have to pick just one thing I found particularly objectionable, it was your abuse of Richard Bushman’s already oft-abused quote about “the dominant narrative” of the Church not being true. You, apparently, immediately took this to mean that Bushman was urging some kind of need to move Latter-day Saint theology “toward[s] orthodox Christianity,” and that he was otherwise providing signs for “a real hope that the Mormon Church [sic] might morph into another Christian denomination that would come to actually embrace orthodox Christian doctrine and repudiate the errors of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.” Suffice it to say that you have badly misunderstood Bushman’s comment. Bushman himself has clarified what he meant with his off-the-cuff statement that “the dominant narrative [of the Church] is not true.” Quoth Bushman, “I still come down on the side of the believers in inspiration and divine happenings—in angels, plates, translations, revelations.” What he appears to have meant with his comment was that Latter-day Saints need to move beyond a simplistic Sunday School version of their history, and that a robust, mature Latter-day Saint historical and theological narrative needs to appreciate how people can react differently to the same disconcerting information about the early history of the Church. (Incidently, I wholeheartedly agree with Bushman on this point.)

In any event, after I listened to this podcast, I went deeper down the rabbit hole out of what I can only call morbid curiosity to see what else you might have said or written about “Mormonism.” There I discovered additional episodes of your podcast, such as this one, where you rehash some of your criticisms of the “Mormon” view of Creation, or this one, where you say remarkable (and abysmally uninformed) things like, “Mormonism [sic] as a religious movement is not characterized by a kind of intellectual element in the way that Christian theology and the Christian church has been. It is more experiential, less doctrinal, less intellectual, and that would fit right in with the Rescue Plan – not attempting to mount an intellectual defense of Mormon [sic] doctrine and give apologetics but to simply do public opinion surveys and a better job of PR.” (There is well over 180 years of a rich “Mormon” apologetic tradition which amply disproves this notion that Latter-day Saints have no intellectual grounding for their faith.)

My continued investigation led me back to some of your debates with prominent atheists and critics of creedal Christianity. There I was astounded at how blithe and dismissive you often were towards Latter-day Saint theology and history during what were otherwise engaging intellectual discussions.

Take, for instance, this exchange in your debate with Alex Rosenberg:

Rosenberg: “Let’s turn to the argument from the New Testament. I am sort of gob smacked as a philosopher that he should persist in propounding this preposterous argument. Ask yourself the following question: in 1827, Joseph Smith got eleven people to certify that they observed the golden tablets which he – an illiterate person – was able to translate from Reform Egyptian and convey the Book of Mormon to the Latter Day Saints. Do we believe on the basis of those eleven certificates that are only about one hundred and sixty years old that the Book of Mormon is the revealed word of God?”

Craig: “As for the resurrection of Jesus, he just doesn’t understand, I think, the credibility of the New Testament documents in this regard. You cannot compare them to Joseph Smith which were probably lies or to Mohammed’s ascension which is probably a legend because in this case we are dealing with early eyewitness testimony that is not the result of conspiracy or lie; these people sincerely believed what they said. That is why most historians accept those three facts. Therefore, the naturalist has got to come up with some alternative explanation. You can’t indict eyewitness testimony in general and then use that against a specific case – you would have to show in the specific case of the Gospels that this testimony is unreliable. That is not the opinion of the majority of historians who have investigated these documents.”

Here you offhandedly dismiss Joseph Smith’s claims as “probably lies.” But you never actually explain why or give any evidence for this belief. You merely assert it. Nor do you actually address Rosenberg’s argument. He is, strictly speaking, correct. There are multiple reliable eyewitnesses to the existence of the golden plates. Latter-day Saint historians and, yes, apologists have produced a compelling body literature arguing for the sincerity, truthfulness, and credibility of these witnesses.1 Have you engaged this literature at all? Are you familiar with it? Are you familiar with the trend among even skeptical or naturalistic historians and biographers of Joseph Smith to acknowledge at least the material existence of the plates, even while seeking naturalistic explanations for them?2 You can’t merely brush aside the testimonies of the early, sincere eyewitnesses to the Book of Mormon as “the result of conspiracy or lie[s]” simply because they are inconvenient to your argument.

After this exchange, in a post-debate summary, you again affirmed, “I would say with regard to Joseph Smith that what he was saying about the golden tablets and the golden spectacles were just lies. I think Joseph Smith was an imposter, and so these were lies.” It may be that Joseph Smith was an imposter, but why do you think so? What specific reasons do you have for arriving at this conclusion? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how problematic it is for a man of philosophical erudition like yourself to make sweeping claims such as this with nary a shred of evidence, or even some kind of justifiable argument. 

Your debate with Rosenberg is not the only instance where you have given unsatisfying and perfunctory answers to important questions about Joseph Smith. On your July 12, 2011 podcast responding to questions about evidence for the Resurrection, you make the following claim: “And as for Joseph Smith, he had obvious motivations for carrying on this ruse in view of the fact that he was the leader of the cult and it gave him a position of power and prominence that he enjoyed. So I don’t have any problem with saying that Smith could well have been insincere in his claims.” Ignoring your pejorative language (“the leader of the cult”) that is completely indecorous and entirely undignified for any serious intellectual, you casually indicate that you “don’t have any problem with saying that Smith could well have been insincere in his claims” on the grounds that “he had obvious motivations for carrying on this ruse.” You may not have a problem with saying such, but that can only be because you, frankly, appear not to have the slightest clue about the life, personality, or character of Joseph Smith. It is the summit of pure folly to make him into some kind of a moustache-twirling nineteenth-century David Koresh or Jim Jones. I know of no serious historian or biographer (not Fawn Brodie, not Robert Remini, not Richard Bushman) who would paint such a crass portrait of one of America’s most important religious figures. Even Joseph’s most ardently skeptical biographers, such as Brodie, have granted his basic sincerity. It is simply impossible for any reasonable, fair-minded individual to walk away from reading his papers and honestly believe Joseph Smith was insincere or conniving.3

But you need not take my word for it. If you think I’m wrong, I invite you to rummage through the Prophet’s papers for yourself. Kindly point me to specific examples of his insincerity, conscious deceit, or wilful malice. If you cannot, then I would urge you to refrain from further making any such embarrassing comments. 

Perhaps the reason why you have not given concrete examples of why you believe Joseph Smith was untruthful, or why you have not provided any specific reasons for believing he was insincere, is because you are incapable of doing so. I say this because of your July 12, 2011 podcast you say the following:

Dear Dr. Craig, doesn’t your argument for the resurrection prove too much? If it is true that people willing to endure persecution are such solid witnesses to their claims, to have eye-witnessed truth, then what about the claims of the witnesses of the golden plates in Mormonism? Even if the plates were a forgery, what motivation would Joseph Smith have had for carrying on his claims in the face of persecution? If he had none, but did it anyway, why couldn’t the apostles have done the same?

Dr. Craig: Well, now here it’s important to understand what the argument is intended to prove. This argument from the disciples’ willingness to die for the truth of the message they proclaimed is only meant to show that they sincerely believed what they said. It’s not meant to prove that what they said was true, but simply that they sincerely believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. And then we want to ask the question, well, what is the best explanation of the origin of that belief? So the claim here that’s being made is very modest, namely that these men sincerely believed that Jesus was risen from the dead. And I don’t know anybody who would doubt that—any historical scholars. Now with respect to the witnesses to the plates – I’m not an expert on Mormonism [sic] – but as I understand it I think the original witnesses did recant and claim that they didn’t see the plates after all. It’s not true that they persisted.

Notwithstanding your understated disclaimer, this answer, Dr. Craig, betrays your profound ignorance of early Latter-day Saint history. As a matter of fact, the Three and Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon never recanted their testimonies. Not in the face of damage to their reputations or literal mob violence. Not even after a substantial number of them fell out with Joseph Smith and were either excommunicated from or otherwise abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ. Again, the literature on this topic is substantial. You’ll pardon me for asking a question with an obvious answer, but are you acquainted with any of it?

What’s more, the parallels to the behavior of the witnesses to the Resurrection are striking. So striking, in fact, that Latter-day Saint apologists have made more or less the same argument you have made: “This argument from the Book of Mormon witnesses’ willingness to die for the truth of the message they proclaimed is only meant to show that they sincerely believed what they said. It’s not meant to prove that what they said was true, but simply that they sincerely believed that Joseph Smith had seen an angel and had golden plates. And then we want to ask the question, well, what is the best explanation of the origin of that belief? So the claim here that’s being made is very modest, namely that these men sincerely believed that Joseph Smith had seen an angel and had golden plates. And I don’t know anybody who would doubt that—any historical scholars.”

This is precisely why Rosenberg brought this up in your debate with him. Your arguments for the reliability of the witnesses of the Resurrection have been employed to great effect for the reliability of the witnesses of the golden plates. Out of what I am charitably going to assume is mere neglect, you are clearly incapable of properly responding to this counter-argument, which I further assume is the reason why you have succumb to such uncharacteristic condescension and disdain. 

Now I harbor no delusions that any of this is likely to change your mind about Joseph Smith or the Restored Gospel. But if I may be indulged to offer you some advice, Dr. Craig, it would be this: rather than persist in making such uninformed and easily discreditable remarks, inform yourself on the life and teachings of Joseph Smith by becoming knowledgable in the best of Latter-day Saint academic history and apologetics. Again, there is a substantial body of work by Latter-day Saint historians and apologists chronicling a believable account of the Prophet’s life and ministry and offering compelling arguments for the credibility of the his claims. I would be more than happy to give you my own recommendations if you desired.4 

I mean this sincerely, Dr. Craig, when I ask: what do you have to lose? You will be benefited by shedding your heretofore ill-informed views thanks to the help of credible scholarship, which is the hallmark of true intellectual integrity and honestly, and you’ll become better-prepared to provide actual cogent rebuttals (not snide handwaving) the next time an atheist or a Latter-day Saint brings up this line of argumentation. And, as a Christian, is it not your biblically-mandated duty not to bear false witness against your neighbors (Exodus 20:16) and to otherwise exercise your God-given rational faculties to the best of their abilities in defending what you suppose to be the truth (1 Peter 3:15)?

Should you elect to undertake it, I would be more than happy to help you in an endeavor to become more knowledgable about the history and faith of the Latter-day Saints.

Cordially,

Stephen O. Smoot

 
  1. The foundational work on the Book of Mormon witnesses is Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981); see also Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 39-60; Steven C. Harper, “Evaluating the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” Religious Educator 11/2 (2010): 37-49; Alexander L. Baugh, “The Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History, ed. Laura Harris Hales (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2016), 45–58; Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019). Online resources summarizing this scholarship include these offerings from Book of Mormon Central: “Who Were the “Few” Who Were Permitted to See the Plates?“, “Why Were Three Key Witnesses Chosen to Testify of the Book of Mormon?“, “How Important Was Oliver Cowdery in Bringing Forth the Book of Mormon?“, “How Did Martin Harris Help Bring Forth the Book of Mormon?“, “Did the Book of Mormon Witnesses Really See What They Claimed?”
  2. The most recent offerings in this trend being Ann Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates,” Numen: International Review for the History of Religions 61, no. 2–3 (2014): 182–207; reprinted in The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts, ed. Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Peterson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018), 93–119; Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies in the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 50–65.
  3. The experience of my friend Don Bradley is illustrative of this point.
  4. Here and here are two good places to start.

28 thoughts on “An Open Letter To William Lane Craig”

    • I went to the Rosenberg debate with my wife and she left ticked with both of them. I vividly recall the exchange that you cited and thought how differently the whole debate would have gone if their had been a qualified Latter-day Saint participant.

  1. It pleases me that the first to comment of Stephen Smoot’s open letter to William Lane Craig was Dr. Melanie Riwai-Couch, who is a gifted Maori educator. I very much doubt that Dr. Craig will respond. We will see.

  2. I look forward to WLC’s response and note that few Christian apologists seem intimately familiar with LDS history/apologetics, which is a huge field of study by itself. Christian discourse on Mormonism can certainly be improved.

    > Kindly point me to specific examples of his insincerity, conscious deceit, or wilful malice

    Deceit or insincerity is always difficult to prove beyond doubt because we don’t have direct access to JS’s mind during these events. Still, here are a few candidates where such a conclusion seems consistent with the data.

    * Joseph Smith denied practicing polygamy on numerous occasions (https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/joseph-smith-polygamy-denials/) but there is good data to suggest that he was, in fact, practicing it. He also went to some lengths to disparage or facilitate the disparagement of those who had called him and other leaders out for the practice (e.g., Martha Brotherton).

    * Joseph Smith’s retelling of his Charles Anthon visit seems to correspond poorly with the actual events that likely occurred, suggesting possible deceit in the retelling (https://medium.com/@jellistx/fact-checking-mormon-history-did-charles-anthon-authenticate-josephs-translation-of-reformed-7aa9736965b7)

    * A side-by-side comparison of the original Book of Commandments with the Doctrine and Covenants suggests the possibility of unwarranted embellishment (i.e., conscious deceit on some level). (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6ItuDdVWOO8X2JqTlVCb3E5dTg/view)

    • “Deceit or insincerity is always difficult to prove beyond doubt because we don’t have direct access to JS’s mind during these events.”

      That’s sort of my point. Craig believes JS was insincere. Okay, one can believe that if one wishes. But how are you going to prove it? the closest way would be to find either admission of guilt (“The Secret Confessions of Joseph Smith” perhaps) or cracks in the façade in JS’s private papers (letters, journals, etc.). If Craig can’t prove it, then he’s engaging in mere wishful thinking.

      “Joseph Smith denied practicing polygamy on numerous occasions”

      I am satisfied that Joseph’s public denials of “polygamy” were awkward attempts at equivocating, not outright deception. Brian Hale’s recent work on this has convinced me of that:

      “‘Denying the Undeniable’: Examining Early Mormon Polygamy Renunciations,” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 44, No. 3 (July 2018), pp. 23-44.

      “Joseph Smith’s retelling of his Charles Anthon visit seems to correspond poorly with the actual events that likely occurred, suggesting possible deceit in the retelling”

      I disagree with this assessment:

      https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/why-did-martin-harris-consult-with-scholars-like-charles-anthon

      “A side-by-side comparison of the original Book of Commandments with the Doctrine and Covenants suggests the possibility of unwarranted embellishment (i.e., conscious deceit on some level).”

      The phrase “unwarranted embellishment” is interesting. Who, for instance, gets to decide what is “unwarranted”? JS had no problem freely revising the text of his scriptural productions: he did it with both the 1837 and 1840 editions of the Book of Mormon, he did with the 1842 printing of the Book of Abraham, and, as you mention, with printed editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. Several (Bushman, Flake, Ashurst-McGee, Jensen, Skousen, Matthews, etc.) historians and text critics have already explored what prerogatives JS assumed with his roles as “seer” and “translator,” and that apparently includes the freedom to expand or revise his scriptural texts as he pleased.

      But your point is taken: one could potentially argue for conscious deceit from these examples, but I think it would be an argument that would find serious pushback from informed Latter-day Saint historians. And, in any case, Craig never makes any of these arguments.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think we agree on the difficulty of proving insincerity.

        > I am satisfied that Joseph’s public denials of “polygamy” were awkward attempts at equivocating, not outright deception.

        To equivocate is “to use equivocal language especially with the intent to deceive” and “equivocal” means “subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse.”

        The logic is straightforward:

        1. Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy at the time he made the denials.
        2. The words JS spoke on these occasions seem clearly designed to give the impression that he was not, in fact, practicing polygamy. This may be inferred by the fact that most of these were delivered in contexts where he was being accused of practicing polygmay or his words are so transparent as to admit of one clear interpretation (i.e., he was not practicing polygamy).

        We can quibble over whether he was deceiving through the clever use of double meanings (which would not have been understood by anyone who didn’t already know he was practicing polygamy) or even whether he was ultimately justified in these deceptions, but Joseph Smith was doing one thing and the words he spoke seem designed to give the impression that he was not doing that thing. This is the textbook definition of “deceive” (“to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid”).

        > Brian Hale’s recent work on this has convinced me of that.

        That article is behind a paywall, but I’ve read most everything publicly accessible written on the topic of JS’s polygamy denials (including many of Hales’s arguments in various venues and every first-hand account in its complete context). I’ve responded to the idea that Joseph Smith wasn’t actually lying here (https://www.reddit.com/r/mormonscholar/comments/66qepx/response_to_hales_challenge_please_show_me_even/).

        > I disagree with this assessment: …

        The KnowWhy article only peripherally deals with some of the claims made in Ellis’s article, and it fails to touch on many of the claims relevant to our discussion here. For instance:

        > In 1832, Joseph records that Anthon told Harris that he could not read the document (but was willing to try to decipher the original, which would provide a much larger body of material to work from). In 1838, Joseph recounts a glowing endorsement from Anthon of the characters’ authenticity and Joseph’s translation.

        We can posit various reasons for a person contradicting themselves in two accounts of the same event, but one of those reasons may be to deceive/mislead others (i.e., to pass off as true one story which does not correspond with the actual truth).

        > Who, for instance, gets to decide what is “unwarranted”?

        Well, at least one of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries (whose testimony Latter-day Saints tend to regard) thought the changes were “unwarranted” (https://archive.org/details/addresstoallbeli00whit/page/56):

        > Some of the revelations as they now appear in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants have been changed and added to changed and added to. Some of the changes being the greatest importance as the meaning is entirely changed on some very important matters; …

        > But your point is taken: one could potentially argue for conscious deceit from these examples

        That was my main point, so I think we’ve found some common ground.

        > but I think it would be an argument that would find serious pushback from informed Latter-day Saint historians.

        One is equally unlikely to find an informed Muslim historian willing to concede any deception on the part of Muhammad, but this probably says more about their acceptance of Muhammad as a prophet than the likelihood that Muhammad was ever deceptive? So, we’ve probably reached our stalemate here, which is fine.

        > And, in any case, Craig never makes any of these arguments.

        And that is a travesty. Hopefully he’ll take notice of your post and become better informed.

        • Thanks for your reply. I’m sure we could go back and forth on each of these individual points, but I suspect we would not agree, for the most part, in our conclusions.

          So instead, let me say that I agree more or less with your final point: Although I would personally find it rather weak, Craig could potentially make an argument for conscious deception or fraud with these points if he wanted, but he did not. Sadly, he opted for mere assertions and handwaving. Hopefully he will step up his game in the future.

          FWIW, if I were going to make an argument from these data points that was not in Joseph Smith’s favor, I would opt for some kind of sincere-self-delusion or pious-fraud argument, rather than an outright-conscious-deceiver argument.

          But that’s perhaps a conversation for another time I suppose.

  3. Thanks Steven. I’ve had similar thoughts. If Craig was as sloppy in his critical thinking skills about Jesus, God, and the New Testament as he is about Joseph Smith and Mormonism, nobody would ever take him seriously.

  4. I have listened to many of WLC’s debates and statements. It seems the reason he is dismissive of the church is because it doesn’t profit him to inform himself or to take is seriously. The majority of his audiences don’t even get into the Church’s existence or have a need to bring it up. He would seem to prefer to go with the misinformation that already exists. His choice to be ignorant does support the probability that he is on his own mission, not God’s

  5. I would like to make a point regarding the supposed “deceptive” inclinations of Joseph Smith. The gentleman making the argument in that direction seems not to recall that all mortal human beings fall short in adhering to the teachings of God and his Son. For example, the head of the original apostles, Peter, upon being interrogated by those present when Jesus was being put through the indignities that He went through at the time of his condemnation by the Jews, denied repeatedly that he even knew the man (Jesus). Would we try to argue that he had no intent to deceive those who questioned him? Or would we say, rather, that his moral fiber as a mortal and imperfect human failed him in a moment of peril and under the threat of being condemned himself and perhaps suffering a fate similar to that of Jesus? God had only ONE perfect Son, capable of enduring such things, and all others, even though they might be prophets, or apostles or whatever, because they are mortal humans, may in some instances fall short, particularly under extenuating circumstances. Humans are prone to do this when they realize that the things they are engaged in are misunderstood by those around them, and upon the realization that openly recognizing before the uninformed public the things they are engaged in, can indeed be a recipe for serious disaster. This was true for Peter, and also for Abraham when he presented his wife to Pharaoh of Egypt in such a way that the Pharaoh would not realize that she was actually his wife. If we have cases such as these documented in the scriptures, showing that prophets, apostles, and men of God have in past times behaved perhaps below the level we might tend to expect of them (and realizing that indeed we ourselves may also misunderstand truth and reality), then why assume that a servant of God in our own times might not in some instance give in to the same weakness (or indeed, we could go so far as to label it as being “prudence”) as we ourselves have each given in to at times when we perceive that openly confirming something inconvenient will bring severe wrath down upon us. Sometimes we do this because we indeed are behaving in a manner unbecoming a disciple of the Lord, but other times we are not necessarily doing anything wrong, but we realize that the perception of others around us as to what is in fact “wrong” is so extremely different from reality that if we recognize and confirm publicly with them our actions and understanding of what is in fact right, we will immediately become subject to severe actions against us. So, I say, why should we assume that Joseph’s motive was deceit when there are so many things that confirm that that was NOT his nature. He may have feared the reaction from those as yet unprepared to understand what he understood, but he was not of an inherently deceitful nature, and NOT intent on leading others astray, as testified by endless details of his life, and by those who knew him intimately and had the opportunity to observe him under every conceivable circumstance. No mortal human is capable of living a lie to such a level over such an extended period of time… the truth always somehow surfaces, and those closest to him would eventually have found him out, and they were all putting their lives on the line because of him. I say no to that theory. And taking into account his willingness to put his life at risk for others, and to endure extreme hardship and persecution rather than recant those things he personally affirmed to be true, we would have to concede (if we would be rational and intellectually honest), that if we are going to strike down his testimony and assertions (or those of the other witnesses and followers) on the basis of his occasional mortal frailty, we will then indeed be negating the validity of using this self-same argument of sincerity of belief being evidenced by the trials and sufferings endured, as commonly applied in favor of the validity of the testimony of the apostles of Jesus (which, again, is why that fellow made use of it as a pretext to try to dismiss the testimonies of the apostles regarding the resurrection of Jesus, knowing that the good Dr. Craig would be unable to stomach allowing for the same argument to apply to Joseph Smith and his followers). And you have to admit that the claims made by the Latter-Day-Saints sound no more preposterous to those around us in our times than those made by Christ and his followers did to those of their times, and the same kinds of accusations have been made regarding Christ and his disciples as are made against the Latter-Day-Saints in our day. Why would anyone expect that it would be otherwise, and that the Father of Lies would for some unfathomable reason cease to rail and accuse against the truth in our times? I, personally, see that fact as one more witness that the “restored gospel”, as we commonly refer to it among members, is in fact the restoration of the very truth that Christ originally established during his mortal ministry.

  6. I do not mean to sound vindictive, but Mormonism just can’t be taken seriously as a candidate for truthful religion.

    There are larger, heavy duty anachronisms and contradictions among other issues compared to other faiths. Although any faith can have an “apologetics department”, only intellectually viable faiths can make a real case for themselves.

    The case for mormonism is desperate to say the least. This is just the reality of the situation.

    WLC is just as informed as he needs to be.

  7. I intend to be dismissive, but not condescending. (I’ve failed)

    Although you are correct in pointing out that WLC has been intellectually lazy in regard to LDS theology, you don’t bother pondering why this might be so. This is quite unlike WLC who typically follows every thread until the end.

    Do you really see it as unjust that the LDS Church isn’t taken seriously by philosophers and theologians? WLC’s laziness (whilst not justified in its own right) is indicative of the state of Mormon apologetics, is it not?

    • “you don’t bother pondering why this might be so.”

      If I’m being charitable, I would attribute Dr. Craig’s shortcoming in this regard to innocent neglect.

      If I’m being more honest, based on anecdotal evidence and his own published comments, I think it’s because of personal bias or even animus against Latter-day Saints on Dr. Craig’s part as an Evangelical polemicist.

      Whatever the case, I emphatically do not believe it is because “Mormonism” is deserving of such dismissive contempt. Such a view, I am convinced, is born of either ignorance or bias.

      “Do you really see it as unjust that the LDS Church isn’t taken seriously by philosophers and theologians?”

      Yes. Although I would qualify this somewhat. It is perhaps not taken seriously by conservative Evangelical theologians like Craig, but my bookshelf of volumes from Oxford, Cambridge, and other university presses on Latter-day Saint history and theology tells me that Craig’s attitude is not representative of academia more broadly.

      “WLC’s laziness (whilst not justified in its own right) is indicative of the state of Mormon apologetics, is it not?”

      No. Not in the slightest.

      What kills me here especially is exactly the same sentiments you and Dr. Craig have disparagingly expressed against “Mormonism” and “Mormon” apologetics can and have been expressed by vociferous atheists against Dr. Craig’s own brand of Evangelical Christian apologetics and conservative theism.

      The hypocrisy is palpable (as I pointed out somewhat in my post).

      • I think it’s a combination of neglecting that area of study and bias. I don’t believe he is contemptuous. And if he is it’s unjustified.

        “…volumes from Oxford, Cambridge, and other university presses on Latter-day Saint history and theology tells me that Craig’s attitude is not representative of academia more broadly.”

        I’ll plead ignorance here as I’m not familiar with the academic writings you refer to, I’m only a dabbler in Mormon theology. Do you mean to tell me that the popular notion that LDS beliefs are unfounded is a creed of ignorance? I’ve followed the conversation a little (CES letter and it’s replies) and it seems overwhelming.

        “…the same sentiments you and Dr. Craig have disparagingly expressed against “Mormonism” and “Mormon” apologetics can and have been expressed by vociferous atheists against Dr. Craig’s own brand of Evangelical Christian apologetics and conservative theism.”

        How can you make such a comparison!? Do you honestly believe that the questions stemming from the atheist camp on general faith are equivalent to the issues raised in the BOM? C’mon, you couldn’t possibly believe such a thing!

        • “I’ll plead ignorance here as I’m not familiar with the academic writings you refer to, I’m only a dabbler in Mormon theology.”

          I would recommend you start with:

          https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199778362.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199778362

          https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-columbia-sourcebook-of-mormons-in-the-united-states/9780231149426

          https://global.oup.com/academic/product/mormon-christianity-9780199316816?cc=us&lang=en&

          https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674737433

          To name just a few volumes off the top of my head.

          “Do you mean to tell me that the popular notion that LDS beliefs are unfounded is a creed of ignorance?”

          I mean to tell you that only the uninformed or the prejudiced dismiss “Mormon” claims out of hand or without having first thoughtfully engaged with Latter-day Saint beliefs and claims. (That includes, of course, thoughtfully engaging with the academic literature written about “Mormon” beliefs.) Of course, there are plenty of intelligent, sincere, thoughtful people who investigate “Mormonism” theologically and historically and remain unconverted. But rarely, if ever, will you find these individuals making the kind of broad, sweeping, and uninformed comments as those of Dr. Craig.

          “I’ve followed the conversation a little (CES letter and it’s replies) and it seems overwhelming.”

          And there it is.

          To be frank, this is the equivalent to somebody casually reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and maybe a handful of apologetic Christian blogs or websites reviewing it and then walking away with the conclusion that Christianity (and theism in general) has “overwhelmingly” been refuted.

          “How can you make such a comparison!?”

          Because atheists themselves have literally made this comparison. I even quote some of them in my post.

          “Do you honestly believe that the questions stemming from the atheist camp on general faith are equivalent to the issues raised in the BOM?”

          Not at all!

          I think the questions raised against the Book of Mormon are, on the whole, magnitudes weaker than the objections raised against orthodox Christian theism.

          “C’mon, you couldn’t possibly believe such a thing!”

          You’d be surprised what I’m capable of believing if I’m sufficiently persuaded by the evidence.

  8. Thanks for all those titles. I can’t promise I will read them though.

    This isn’t the place to debate the nitty gritty. But ultimately your saying that:

    The attitude that BOM is anachronistic and lacks convergence etc. (as compared to other religious scriptures) stems from ignorance. If one only “thoughtfully engaged with the academic literature” they would see that the BOM is in the same league as other religious scriptures in terms of validity.

    and…

    the criticisms of the BOM are empty, like that of The God Delusion (which as you correctly note, are poorly researched.) The rebuttals to the criticisms of the BOM are more compelling than that of the responses to the Dawkins types.

    From all the knowledge I have thus far, I just couldn’t disagree more. The responses to Dawkins are strong and very compelling. It make me wonder if he ever did basic research. The defense to the BOM seems very apologetic and wishful. It makes me think Mormons wish we didn’t do research.

    I can’t say that every criticism is
    valid (they arent) or that I have all the knowledge necessary (I don’t). But the totality of the BOM seems to set it apart from say the new or old testament in terms of reliability. Thats seems to be the reality of the situation.

    I’m not excusing WLC or the Orthodox Christian attitude (I’m not a Christian myself although I am a theist).

    Await you response.

    • “Thanks for all those titles. I can’t promise I will read them though.”

      That’s entirely up to you. My point in sharing them was merely to demonstrate how Latter-day Saint theology and history is taken seriously as an academic discipline, not to give you a bunch of homework.

      Here’s what I am saying:

      William Lane Craig and many others have taken an unjustifiably dismissive stance towards the beliefs, history, and scriptures of the Latter-day Saints. They have not adequately engaged with Latter-day Saint apologetic and academic literature. They have not thoughtfully gauged the evidence for and against Latter-day Saint claims. And in the worst cases, they have not even taken the time to so much as acquaint themselves with the very basics of Latter-day Saint beliefs and history. Whether one ultimately accepts or rejects Latter-day Saint truth claims, this is entirely unacceptable for anyone wanting to count themselves as serious academics. This is wholly unbecoming of a man such as William Lane Craig who, most of the time, provides thoughtful and reasoned engagement with competing theological and metaphysical worldviews. The fact that, whether out of neglect or spite, he does not afford Latter-day Saints the kind of basic intellectual courtesy he owes them is what prompted me to write this post. If Craig thinks “Mormonism” is just too laughably absurd, or too transparently false, for him to give it serious consideration, then that’s of course entirely within his rights. But that, in turn, compromises his otherwise laudable intellectual fairness.

      As for criticisms of the Book of Mormon, what I am saying is that most, but not all, of the criticisms levied against it have entirely satisfactory answers. What’s more, the trend over the past two-hundred years, and especially over the past, let’s say, forty years, has been favorable towards its authenticity. That is to say, as we’ve learned more about the ancient world, the Book of Mormon finds more convergence therewith. As such, while I would not presume to say that the Book of Mormon is obviously true beyond dispute, I am convinced that anybody who wants to seriously engage the text, and who wants to be taken seriously in their own opinions thereof, must seriously engage this growing body of literature, and must confront the text and explain its existence somehow other than the explanation given by Joseph Smith. Again, William Lane Craig and many others unjustifiably ignore this, and do not afford the attention and consideration which I believe the Book of Mormon rightly demands as world scripture and as a purported ancient text.

      “The defense to the BOM seems very apologetic and wishful. It makes me think Mormons wish we didn’t do research. . . . I can’t say that every criticism is
      valid (they arent) or that I have all the knowledge necessary (I don’t). But the totality of the BOM seems to set it apart from say the new or old testament in terms of reliability. Thats seems to be the reality of the situation.”

      You’ll forgive me, but inasmuch as, by your own admission, you aren’t really familiar with the body of literature, why should I care at all about your opinion on this matter? Your comment that “it makes me think Mormons wish we didn’t do research” is, to be blunt, particularly absurd. Are you familiar with the body of Latter-day Saint academic literature from the past 40 or so years? Do the names Leonard Arrington, Hugh Nibley, Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, Daniel Peterson, and many others mean anything to do? How about institutions such as the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, FairMormon, the Interpreter Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, the Faith Matters Foundation, the Book of Mormon Studies Association, and others? What about the Mormon Studies programs at Claremont, the University of Virginia, USC, Utah State University, and other institutions of higher education?

      Let’s be very clear here: the CES Letter is to “Mormonism” what The God Delusion is to theism. As a matter of fact, it’s even worse. Dawkins is at least an academically-qualified scientist who actually got his book published by a reputable mainstream press. Jeremy Runnells, by comparison, is without question the worst kind of self-publishing, intellectually-crowd-sourcing, amateurish dilettante the Internet could produce.

      So, again, I am not saying that the case for the Book of Mormon is so overwhelming that everybody must accept its truthfulness. What I am saying is that saying something like “well I’ve read the CES Letter and have dabbled in some Mormon blogs so what’s the big deal if William Lane Craig is intellectually lazy when it comes to Mormonism?” is entirely indefensible.

  9. Thanks for the response.

    “William Lane Craig and many others have taken an unjustifiably dismissive stance…”

    Fair. He shouldn’t make sweeping statements (the likes of which you mention above) without thorough research and engagement. This is especially as a distinguished philosopher and a theologian as you point out.

    However, as I mentioned above you do not seem to question why or how this prejudice has formed. I do not believe that this is simply because Mormons are the pesky younger brothers of Orthodox Christianity so to speak (although there is certainly some of that too.) I can speak for my self; I am not nor have I ever have been a Christian, but I understand why this attitude toward the BOM exists.

    “As for criticisms of the Book of Mormon, what I am saying is that most, but not all, of the criticisms levied against it have entirely satisfactory answers.”

    I do not agree. I have read the back and forth and although each issue in isolation is treatable to a certain extent, the totality seems to weigh heavily against the Mormon position. Seems like a lot of band-aids to me.

    “why should I care at all about your opinion?”

    You don’t have to 😉

    “Are you familiar with the body of Latter-day Saint academic literature from the past 40 or so years? Do the names…”

    I am not an expert on Mormon academic literature (nor do I have to be to take a position.) I have heard lectures from some of those names you mention, particularly Daniel Peterson. I have read much from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Fair Mormon and Joseph Smith Papers Project.

    “Let’s be very clear here: the CES Letter is to “Mormonism” what The God Delusion is to theism. As a matter of fact, it’s even worse. Dawkins is at least an academically-qualified scientist who actually got his book published by a reputable mainstream press. Jeremy Runnells, by comparison, is without question the worst kind of self-publishing, intellectually-crowd-sourcing, amateurish dilettante the Internet could produce.”

    Everything aside I don’t seem to get the point. With all of his qualifications notwithstanding, Dawkins produced a poor quality book; academic atheists know it and say it openly. Not because of who he is or the position he is taking but because of the quality plain and simply sucked. He didn’t ask any good questions! (almost as bad as Bill Mahr’s “Religilious” if you ask me). Jeremy Runnells essay on Mormonism is powerful precisely because he lacks the expertise; there are so many holes and issues with Mormon theology and belief that credentials aren’t needed to spot them. As the saying goes: “I know BS when I see it.”

    If there are such “satisfactory answers” from the “past 40 years” from such venerable “scholars” and “institutions” why hasn’t the CES Letter been knocked out of the park as the God Delusion has? I know you think it has but many clearly don’t agree.

    • Everyone is free to decide for themselves where the preponderance of evidence leads them. This includes the matter of the contested authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

      “Jeremy Runnells essay on Mormonism is powerful precisely because he lacks the expertise; there are so many holes and issues with Mormon theology and belief that credentials aren’t needed to spot them. As the saying goes: “I know BS when I see it.””

      This is precisely the kind of rhetoric that anti-vaxxers and young earth creationists use. “Oh yeah? Well, we don’t need academic training and credentials because we’re just obviously so right and nobody can refute us! There are so many holes in [vaccination science][evolution] that credentials aren’t needed to spot them!”

      I’m deeply unimpressed with this line of argumentation.

      Instead of Runnells being some rogue sleuth who finally figured things out and is speaking irrefutable truth to power, he is instead the poster boy for the Dunning–Kruger Effect.

      “If there are such “satisfactory answers” from the “past 40 years” from such venerable “scholars” and “institutions” why hasn’t the CES Letter been knocked out of the park as the God Delusion has? I know you think it has but many clearly don’t agree.”

      Quoth Wikipedia,

      “As of January 2010, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 2 million copies. As of September 2014, it increased to 3 million copies. It was ranked second on the Amazon.com best-sellers’ list in November 2006. It remained on the list for 51 weeks until 30 September 2007. The German version, entitled Der Gotteswahn, had sold over 260,000 copies as of 28 January 2010. The God Delusion has been translated into 35 languages.”

      Clearly many people don’t agree with you that Richard Dawkins is peddling pseudo-intellectual pablum.

      See how easy this game is? The popularity or success of the CES Letter has absolutely zero bearing on its credibility or truthfulness. The same goes for The God Delusion, but using your very own standard, I can say: “Well The God Delusion must be true, because despite all the hard-hitting theistic counter-arguments to Dawkins’ thesis, the book continues to be successful and influential. Why hasn’t it been knocked out of the park yet?”

      And, again, I can do this with anti-vaxxers. “Just look at how successful the crusade against vaccines has been! Scientists and public health experts are helpless to stop it. If vaccines really were safe, then why haven’t anti-vaxxers been knocked out of the park yet?”

      There have been multiple direct and indirect rebuttals to the CES Letter. Individuals are free to decide for themselves which side they find more persuasive, but to pretend like Runnells hasn’t faced sustained, serious critique from highly knowledgeable and qualified experts (just as The God Delusion has) is not a fair representation of the facts on the ground.

      Runnells has zero academic credibility and the CES Letter is pulpy Reddit trash. Period. The refutations to practically all of Runnells’ arguments were articulated even before he was born, but being the illiterate that he is, he didn’t know about them when he crowd-sourced Reddit (which, by the way, he has lied about to the press when asked about how he got involved in all of this: https://www.plonialmonimormon.com/2016/02/ces-letter-author-jeremy-runnells-to.html), and now that he’s the de facto leader of an Internet cult, he refuses to walk back even the stuff that he recognizes is demonstrably wrong with his PDF (e.g. his argument from the Vernal Holley maps, which even he has recognized has been refuted, but still refuses to remove from his PDF).

      No amount of rhetorical skullduggery about how Runnells is the scrappy underdog who don’t need no academic training or whatever will change this fact.

  10. “This is precisely the kind of rhetoric that anti-vaxxers and young-earth creationists use”

    No, it is not.

    In order for that comparison to work, you must insist that for the layman, the intellectual viability of the BOM is reasonably equivalent to that of anti-vaxxerism.

    But it isn’t. I do not need knowledge in immunology nor evolutionary biology to have sufficient reason to trust the medical and scientific community. Real-life experience and general awareness of societal norms, has given me more than adequate reason to trust the scientific and medical consensus. True, I could not defend my position on vaccines in front of say, Andrew Wakefield, nor would that weaken my case. Basic critical thinking is the most valuable data there is.

    The CES Letter is exactly that; an exercise in critical thinking from a layman (even if there are errors therein). His doubts about the BOM stem from the same place my doubts towards anti-vaxxers stem from; common sense (not to say that they’re equivalent.)

    Do you really believe the challenges to the BOM are in any way comparable to anti-vaxxerism? (lemme guess, yes??)

    At the end of the day, the devil is in the details and we cannot adequately ascertain the veracity if the BOM in the comments section without hashing out each argument. You insist that at the end of the day the details are not alarming. I disagree and I believe WLC does too.

  11. CORRECTION:

    What I meant to write was:

    In order for that comparison to work, you must insist that for the layman, the intellectual viability of questioning the BOM is reasonably equivalent to that of anti-vaxxerism.

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