Argumentation tactics of LDS apologists

Problematic assumptions and argumentation strategies
often found among defenders of Mormonism.

Formerly, the most visible Mormon apologetic efforts were found in FARMS Review of Books, a print journal whose contributors were, for the most part, highly educated.  With the advent of the Internet, however, defenders of the Mormon faith are much, much more common, and the amateurs can post their views just as easily--and as often--as the professionals.

Having interacted quite heavily with all varieties of Mormon apologists over the years, especially on Internet-based discussion boards, I have identified several key assumptions that dominate their thinking.  This essay will help you "get inside their heads" so their defenses can be more easily anticipated.  Their beliefs and assumptions are these:

  1. All sources which are favorable to the LDS church are true.  All sources which are unfavorable to the LDS church are false.

    Author and historian D. Michael Quinn said it best:  "Apologists extend the broadest possible latitude to sources they agree with, yet impose the most stringent demands on sources of information the apologists dislike" (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Revised and Expanded Edition (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998).  p. 47).  Like clockwork, any statement or document which makes the LDS church look good is automatically assumed to be 100% reliable, whereas any statement or document which makes the LDS church look bad is automatically assumed to be "biased" and "anti-Mormon," which in an apologist's mind immediately translates to "false."  Amazingly, they never see their own double-standard, namely that pro-LDS sources are usually just as (if not more) "biased," only in the opposite direction.

    This may seem like an over-generalization, and Mormon apologists are sometimes quick to point that out, but it is, amazingly, true:  If one asks an LDS apologist which statement hostile to Mormonism is true and reliable, they are unable to come up with a response.

  2. Anyone who disagrees--however slightly--with any aspect of Mormonism is automatically an anti-Mormon, a bigot, or a fundamentalist whose views can be dismissed out-of-hand.

    Once again, the apologists themselves routinely deny operating this way, but "the proof is in the pudding:"  In actual practice, if someone voices his or her disagreement with any part of Mormonism, then his or her views are immediately discounted as being "anti-Mormon," no matter how many facts, sources, and documentation he or she uses to back up his or her statements.

    For example, LDS apologists usually dismiss the horrific accounts of polygamy found in the book Wife No. 19, since the author was a critic of Mormonism.  This is in spite of the following three facts:

    1. The author was a former polygamous wife of no less than Brigham Young,
    2. As such, she was often privvy to the goings-on at the highest levels of Mormonism, and
    3. All her formative years took place in early Utah when polygamy was at its height.

    Apologists routinely discount her as "a disgruntled former member with an axe to grind."  Unfortunately for them, she wasn't born disgruntled.  Pro-LDS people never admit that she had a number of extremely good reasons for becoming disgruntled in the first place.

    Interestingly, this assumption often spills over onto sincere Mormons who are having struggles with some part of their religion and who innocently ask questions in order to resolve their concerns.  Apologists often assume that the questioner is a "troll," in this case an ex-Mormon trying to bait the apologists or otherwise set a trap for them.  As a result of having been treated this way, more than one member has become convinced that LDS apologetics is intellectually bankrupt--along with the church itself--and left Mormonism entirely.

  3. A critic must always be personally attacked whenever possible (because if a critic of Mormonism has any imperfections, then everything he or she says is false).

    Rather than address the issue at hand, apologists will often "dig for dirt" on the critic.  For example, they responed to Grant Palmer's book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins mostly by attacking his service as an LDS Institute teacher.  They are also quick to point out that Brent Metcalfe does not hold a Ph.D., as if that made any difference to his arguments.  Most recently, they have attacked the author of Losing a Lost Tribe for having a relationship while being legally separated.  (Predictably, the more difficult a disbeliever is to refute, the greater the number of personal attacks made against him or her.)

    Needless to say, shooting the messenger doesn't negate the truth of the message--a subtle point that pro-Mormons either don't realize or hope their readers aren't astute enough to notice.

  4. Apologists are unable to distinguish between possibilities and probabilities.

    When they come up with defenses for their faith, LDS apologists and their sympathizers automatically assume that the scenario they've concocted, however unlikely, is "good enough" to provide Mormonism with an "out," at which point all criticism is dismissed.  For example, when it comes to the Book of Abraham controversy, the characters written down the left margins of three of the four manuscripts prove that the recovered papyrii were indeed the source of the Book of Abraham and not any "missing black and red scroll."  Yet some apologists say that the scribes went "maverick" and wrote the characters in the margins on their own without any input from Joseph.  The fact is that Joseph was broken of his habit of loaning out scriptural manuscripts way back in 1828.  The idea that he would let scribes "have their way" with such important documents may be an extremely remote possibility, but is not a probability by any means.

  5. If a scientist or anti-Mormon is wrong about one thing, it is safe to assume that he or she is wrong about everything.

    FARMS Review of Books was the pioneer of this apologetic tactic.  Often, after sniping away at one minor quibble in a critical book, they discount everything in the entire volume and advise their readers to do likewise.

    This tactic has since gained great popularity and is used by LDS defenders of all stripes.  For example, nowadays, if an article appears showing how some prior scientific assumption has turned out to be incorrect, apologists then "take the ball and run with it," making arguments which boil down to, "You see?  Scientists are often wrong anyway.  Therefore we can discount anything they say regarding the Lamanite/DNA issue."  Yet they fail to recognize that although scientists may be wrong about some aspect of the DNA controversy, it hardly follows that they're entirely wrong on all aspects of it and that the Lamanites are, therefore, the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

  6. Apologists routinely accuse critics of "telling us what we believe."  They follow up by saying, "We are the authorities on what we believe, not the critics."

    This line of thinking is more common among the less-educated apologists.  This is because their ignorance of their own history has rendered them unable to recognize that their religion has changed and evolved over the years.  Such apologists assume that the church they have come to know--three hours of church on Sunday, Boy Scout campouts, home teaching, Relief Society activity night, etc.--is the way Mormonism always was.  Unfortunately, Mormonism in its early years had far more in common with the Branch Davidian compound than it does to Mormonism today.

    Defenders of Mormonism put this catch-phrase to good use when they need to deny or discount embarrassing statements from past prophets, especially Brigham Young.  They fall into the trap of interpreting all previous prophetic pronouncements through the lenses of modern-day Mormonism as opposed to going by the plain-English meaning.  For example, when responding to Brigham Young's teaching that Adam "is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do," apologists assume that it is utterly impossible that he meant exactly what he said.

    (Unknown to them, this sends the apologists on the slippery-slope of believing that their interpretation of the prophets' words--not the prophets' interpretations themselves--are correct.  See my webpage on Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism for a more in-depth exploration of this subject.)

  7. Apologists often respond to a challenge with the phrase, "that's been debunked countless times already."

    Although it is true that Mormon apologists have been active nearly as long as Mormonism has existed, it does not follow that all their attempts to refute their critics have succeeded.  I am unaware of any objection to Mormonism that hasn't been addressed to some degree, but at the same time I am aware of very, very few such objections that have ever been addressed competently or believably.  Pro-Mormons almost universally fail to recognize that there is a huge difference between an "adequate refutation" and a "lame excuse"--and pro-Mormons produce far, far more of the latter than they do the former.  For example, when an anti-Mormon brings up Joseph Smith's marital infidelities, LDS defenders often claim that Joseph Smith was sealed to his already-married plural wives for eternity only--to provide salvation for them--and not for "time."  This excuse hardly counts as a "debunking" and is, of course, the most strained special pleading imaginable--and thus far closer to a "lame excuse"--since these women could just as easily have been sealed for eternity to their legal husbands as to Smith.

  8. All arguments are made in a vacuum.

    In other words, defenders of the LDS faith are inconsistent and do not apply their logic in one scenario to all scenarios.  A good case is their ever-varying position regarding the translation method of The Book of Mormon.  Specifically, whenever they claim to identify Hebrew idioms or speech patterns within its text, they claim that the translation was "tight" and that God gave Joseph the text word-for-word.  On the other hand, when critics point out instances of Joseph's 19th century idiom, such as "good homely cloth," the apologists quickly backpedal and claim the translation was "loose," i.e. Joseph simply spoke aloud the general impressions he received from God.

  9. Argumentative double-standards.

    Many of their apologetics would, in any other context, fall flat on their face.  For example, few if any LDS defenders would not only forgive, but justify a man who married his friends' wives or who convinced a 14 year old girl that her family could not receive salvation unless she married him.  But for some reason, Joseph Smith is the only human being who ever lived who gets a "free pass" for such behavior.

    Similarly, LDS defenders give out another "free pass" by saying "that was only his opinion" whenever a critic brings up a disproven or otherwise embarrassing statement made by any of the other prophets.  They predictably do not give such free passes to their critics.

  10. Apologists always claim to represent the mainstream.

    With this assumption, pro-Mormons can say nearly anything about their religion and then imply that the critic doesn't really understand Mormonism and, therefore, the critic's views may be dismissed.  Yet it is imperative to determine what the church actually teaches as opposed to what the apologist is trying to teach.  (Once more, see my essay on Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism for a more specific examination of this issue.)

To see the apologists in action, visit:

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