MormonInformation's review of FARMS Review of Books
[NOTE: This page was itself reviewed by FARMS in Volume 12, Number 2 of its Review of Books. You can read their review at this site [keeping in mind that this page used to be titled "Dr. Shades' Review of FARMS' Review of Books"]. I wrote a response to that review which you can read at this site. I assure my readers that, for integrity's sake, since the publication of that review the only words on this page that have been added are this note and five links in brackets, while the sole deletion was of obsolete information regarding FARMS' temporary membership signup and a single link at the bottom of the page. No other alteration has taken place.]
What do you do when you don't like the message? Why, shoot the messenger, of course! As Curt van den Heuvel said on his site, "It has often been noted that the point of apologetics appears to be to reassure the faithful, not to persuade the unbeliever. Mormon apologetics is no exception."
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, based at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, took upon itself the task of reviewing books on the Book of Mormon, both pro- and con-, about ten years ago in a publication called "FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon," now otherwise known as simply "FARMS Review of Books." For whatever reason, they also began reviewing anti-Mormon books in general, even books whose overall focus is much broader than just the Book of Mormon itself. By doing so, they became the unofficial "apologetics mill" for the Church. To FARMS' credit, their reviews of books published by faithful members are dealt with even-handedly, in my opinion, offering fair insights into their relative merits or lack thereof. Unfortunately, I don't find the same sort of objectivity when they review anti-Mormon books. The reviews take on a decidedly antagonistic tone, betraying the reviewers' bias (this is almost understandable, however, since many of them have the annual ecclesiastical endorsement to consider. Intellectual integrity is a natural casualty when one's career at BYU is on the line, whether student or faculty!). The purpose of this page is to list what I perceive to be the bogus arguments FARMS Review of Books uses when evaluating anti-Mormon literature. This list is in no particular order:
[Here are some pertinent additions from "Chuckle, a BYU graduate, agnostic Mormon, and recovering FARMSaholic" e-mailed to me on 3-4-1999:]
- "Joseph Smith didn't really say that"
- Whenever embarrasing sayings of Smith rear their ugly heads, for example Joseph's explanation of 1,000 year old men living on the moon and tropical regions located at the North and South poles, FARMS declares that such information is only second or thirdhand, or it's not in his own handwriting, therefore it's unlikely Smith ever said it. The problem with this is that FARMS knows full well that Smith made much use of scribes to do his writing for him. In addition, just because a second party relates the information doesn't automatically mean that the individual, often a close associate of Joseph Smith, is lying or relating the information incorrectly. Of course, if Joseph said something they actually like, FARMS wastes no time vouching for its reliability.
- "We are under attack"
- No matter what a so-called "anti-Mormon" book claims, FARMS and others automatically assume that anything critical of the LDS version of events is somehow an "attack" on the Church. The purpose of this is to quickly generate sympathy in the reader and cement an "us vs. them" mentality. Instead of following FARMS' lead by diving into a bunker, the reader would do well to simply examine the issues at hand brought up by the book being reviewed.
- Blinding you with science
- Although FARMS is made up of highly educated individuals, their Review of Books is clearly aimed at the lay membership of the Church. By deliberately using an overabundance of technical and scholarly jargon, however, they create the following impression in the reader's mind: "Since the reviewer is this educated and yet remains a non-doubting Mormon in spite of the evidences brought out by the book, then I guess there's something I'm missing and I should remain a non-doubting Mormon, too."
- Demanding Godlike literary standards
- Seemingly every misplaced comma attracts a flurry of criticism from FARMS. Every possible slight infraction of rigid journalistic standards brings down a firestorm of wrath. By doing this, they create the illusion that if there are any mistakes in the text, the author absolutely had to be careless in portraying the overall facts as well. Predictably, FARMS doesn't bother to abide by its own standards. If they did, we'd have a never-ending stream of truly impressive literary masterpieces.
- Avoiding the issue
- This is otherwise known as "the red herring technique." This is probably the technique used most often. By going off on several tangents and hashing out irrelevant information, the main points brought up in the book being reviewed can be safely avoided by FARMS when they know they have no real response to the issue at hand. For example, when they reviewed Charles Larson's By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, much ado was made about Larson's ability or inability to read Egyptian. By attacking his proficiency with this language, they draw the reader away from the scent of the real issue: It doesn't matter whether Larson can read Egyptian at all. What matters is whether Joseph Smith could read and translate Egyptian, by the power of God or otherwise.
- "That's the same old anti-Mormon argument that's been around for years"
- The calculated assumption this creates in the reader's mind is that if the argument has been around for decades or even a century or more, then it must have been successfully addressed by LDS scholars long ago, thereby making the argument irrelevant. In most cases, nothing can be further from the truth. Sure, the argument may have been around for years, but the reason it is brought up yet again is because it has not been adequately addressed, and it's still valid to this day!  If time alone were enough to diminish a claim's veracity, FARMS would do well to remember that the same old pro-Mormon arguments have been around a lot longer.
- "That's been misquoted or taken out of context"
- This is a tried-and-true thought-terminating cliché used not only by FARMS but by the average Mormon as well when confronted by non-faith promoting material from the Journal of Discourses or other sources. The way to determine if something is taken out of context is to read the source material for yourself, of course. In most cases, FARMS and LDS leaders are the ones doing the misquoting and taking out of context, not the anti-Mormons. If you don't believe me, pick up an anti-Mormon book, compare the quote with the Journal of Discourses or History of the Church, compare it again with the Mormon apologetics, and draw your own conclusions.
- Ad Hominem attacks
- FARMS doesn't hesitate to demean their "opposition" by resorting to condescending and derogatory remarks about the author of the book being reviewed. Even the author's intelligence is sometimes insulted. The reason for this, of course, is to lead the reader into thinking, "Hmm. It looks like only idiots write anti-Mormon things, so I suppose only smart people are Mormons. I guess I'd better ignore this anti-Mormon book, bury my doubts, and stick with the Church." Although not initially a publication of FARMS, Hugh Nibley's No Ma'am That's Not History, an apologetic response to Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, is a classic example.
[Here are Chuckle's additions regarding some of FARMS' annoying habits in general, not just when they review anti-Mormon books:]
- Poisoning the well (or Korihor's Press)
- FARMS has carried on a campaign against Signature Books since the early '90s. Because of this, I think FARMS hesitates to recommend books coming from Signature because then they will look hypocritical. They'll take any opportunity, moreover, to shred [author] D. Michael Quinn, even taking detours in book reviews having nothing to do with Quinn. Again, I think the message being sent is: "Don't read these books for yourself. Leave it to us to read them for you! We don't want you to be exposed to anything uncomfortable or faith-shattering."
- Making a mountain out of a molehill
- FARMS blows things way out of proportion. They will go on for pages and pages and pages, trying with every page to absolutely bury the book for good. After a while, the reader's mind becomes numb. I find it fascinating that they managed to write a review of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon that was longer than the book itself! William Hamblin devoted a novella-sized (75 pages) review to a Dialogue article on Kabbalah. And how to explain the review of Quinn's Same-Sex Dynamics? Goes on and on and on and on. . . Again, an attempt to bury the books. Another phenomenon: Reviews of the same book appearing in more than one issue. I have seen reviews of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon in 6/1, 7/2, and 8/1. How long can we talk about this book?
- Books by General Authorities
- Well, as you can imagine, objectivity goes out the window here. Nary a criticism. In his recent review, John Gee couldn't find a single negative thing to write about Jeffrey R. Holland's book on the Book of Mormon. Gushing. In fact, I can't think of a single negative review of a book by a GA [Because if a FARMS reviewer did, they'd probably lose their ecclesiastical endorsement and thus be forced to resign from BYU].
- Reviewing FARMS books
- FARMS reviewers seem less than objective about FARMS books. Coincidence? I think not. Daniel Peterson nearly always manages to highly recommend the latest FARMS book.
- Incestuous citing
- FARMS reviewers have an annoying habit of referencing and promoting articles and books by other FARMS writers. They'll reference a few FARMS articles and pronounce the issue closed. Again, FARMS scholarship seems to be the holiest of the holiest in their own eyes.
- Talking out of both sides of their mouth
- I see an interesting phenomenon in FARMS publications. On the one hand, they will deny they are the last word on Mormon scholarship or apologetics (usually in response to anti-Mormons who charge the same), but on the other hand they smugly laud their own books, pat themselves on the back, and otherwise give the opposite impression: "We are the place for top-notch scholarship; if you want top-notch apologetics, consult our catalog of publications; we are the source for leading Book of Mormon research," etc. It's a very convenient position to take.
- Turning a book review into a testimony meeting
- Personally I don't want to hear a testimony. Stick to the arguments. If someone loses their testimony of the Church over polygamy or the Book of Abraham, so be it.
The following was posted to the Recovery from Mormonism bulletin board. It was too poignant to pass up, so I reproduce it here word-for-word with the author's permission:
Date: 1999-02-09 15:17
The five skills of an LDS Apologist
1) Editorialize and label the criticism as "garbage," point out that it is so foul that it would be undignified to even credit such a rank assault with an answer. Enlarge on how non Christ-like the author is, and thus declare victory in the debate.
2) Explain how nothing can be absolutely "proved" by evidence anyway, and besides the evidence is based on unacceptable assumptions and is therefore tenuous, and ultimately it is all a matter of faith. And remind the critic that the lack of evidence does not prove that something DID NOT exist. Declare the criticism refuted once and for all.
3) Carry-on as if the current criticism is exactly like past criticisms and therefore can be automatically discredited because the past ones are no longer published, presumably because they were all refuted (therefore the current criticism is ultimately invalid because it too will someday be disproved).
4) When confronted with an argument, suggest that if the same category of criticism were used against the critic's religion that it would destroy all his basis for religious faith. Use this tactic to show the critic that his criticism is worthless because he is using a DOUBLE STANDARD.
Start out by insisting that incomplete information is the same as NO information, and with NO information there is no such thing as contradictory information.
5) Provide a snow job of correct sounding, but distantly related trivia that are really irrelevant to the critical issue.
Point-out that the critic is relying on "non-comprehensive" bodies of information to support his doctrinal positions and therefore does not have real proof to support his views either. Also insist that non-comprehensive information is not enough to discriminate between consistent and contradictory information.
Lastly behave as if the LDS "no evidence" situation and Christianity's "non-comprehensive evidence" are the same thing because neither provides absolute proof of anything.
Declare the critic a hypocrite and a fool for playing with such dangerous kinds of information, and you have won the argument!
Declare victory once and forevermore, based on the sheer volume of your regurgitation.
Don't just take our word for it, though. Go to FARMS Review of Books and see for yourself!
(The reason I haven't directly quoted examples of these various arguments is because FARMS expressly forbids copying anything from their website.)
For more information, see:
Back to MormonInformation.com
"Apologists extend the broadest possible latitude to sources they agree with, yet impose the most stringent demands on sources of information the apologists dislike."
--D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Revised and Enlarged Edition (Salt Lake City: Signature Books), 1998. p. 47