In a previous blog post I mentioned how Simon Southerton “has been trying to polarize apologists and others who promote various theories about the Book of Mormon.” An astounding example of that very avocation recently appeared under Dr. Southerton’s nom de plume on the Recovery from Mormonism message board.
The article, under the title of Cirque Du Apologetique – starring Sasquatch and UFOs, has received kudos from Dr. Southerton’s intended audience. (Don’t be surprised if you try the link and the post is gone; posts don’t remain long on RfM.)
While it is encouraging to see that Dr. Southerton is trying his hardest to recover from his past Mormonism, it is disheartening to see a researcher and scientist with credentials such as his resort to distorting information in the apparent hope of poisoning the well against others who disagree with his conclusions.
In this particular post, Dr. Southerton provides short bios of some whom he claims are “stars in the current apologetic circus.” He provides information about the circus’ ringmaster (Dan Peterson) and a host of “clowns.” As one of the clowns listed by Dr. Southerton (and thus the title of this blog post), I thought it might be interesting to examine the evidence presented by Dr. Southerton in his posting. I’ll quote each of the bios written by Dr. Southerton, in their entirety, and then provide my thoughts.
DANIEL PETERSON: Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU. Regarded by many apologists to be assuming Nibleyesque (lay prophet) status. Unheard of by leading scholars in his professional sphere as Tal Bachman discovered when he contacted academics in his field in five US universities. The head of the department at UCLA where he obtained his PhD hadn’t heard of him! Yikes! http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon458.htm
It is interesting that the message cited as evidence by Dr. Southerton (the message by Mr. Bachman) never specifically indicates who was contacted about Dr. Peterson’s credentials. It is a safe bet that if Mr. Bachman contacted people in the wrong fields, he would get the answers he got. For instance, Mr. Bachman indicates that he contacted “the current head of the very graduate program” where Dr. Peterson received his Ph.D. He doesn’t bother to tell us the name of this person, or which department the person chairs. I wrote to Dr. Elizabeth Carter, head of UCLA’s Near Eastern Languages & Cultures department, asking about Dr. Peterson. She responded back that “I remember him, I think he went on to teach a BYU. His dissertation should be in the UCLA library.” It makes me wonder who Mr. Bachman wrote to, if anyone.
What Dr. Southerton fails to inform his readership of is that Dr. Peterson is president of The Society of Mormon Philosophy, editor-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, and author of an Eerdmans-published book on Muhammad that was reviewed by Parviz Morewedge (Professor at Rutgers and UCLA Ph.D. recipient) as “The best scholarly text on the prophet Muhammad written by a Christian.” According to non-LDS Dr. Hossein Ziai (Director of Iranian Studies, UCLA), Dr. Peterson’s work with METI is “superb” and that he is a “fine scholar.”
It is somewhat telling that Dr. Southerton, in dismissing the credentials of someone with whom he religiously disagrees, would rely upon the undocumented research of an uncredentialed individual in preference to the comments of Dr. Peterson’s credentialed peers.
D. JEFFERY MELDRUM: Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology, Idaho State University. Meldrum appears in the deeply flawed FAIR DVD (The Book of Mormon and New World DNA, 2008). Meldrum is the foremost authority on BIGFOOT. He is considered a “joke” among his peers and dozens of scientists at ISU have called for his dismissal. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15548356/
It is unclear why Dr. Southerton considers Dr. Meldrum one of the apologetic “clowns.” Dr. Meldrum does not consider himself an apologist, but he does disagree with several things—mostly religious in nature—espoused by Dr. Southerton. Does such disagreement mean that Dr. Meldrum is, indeed, an apologist? If so, then why doesn’t Dr. Southerton characterize himself as an apologist for the same reason?
Apparently Dr. Southerton feels that Dr. Meldrum can be relieved of any credibility on two counts: because he researches Bigfoot and because he appears in a DVD that Dr. Southerton pronounces as “deeply flawed.” If Dr. Meldrum’s work is to be tossed aside due to these criteria, perhaps Dr. Southerton should lobby his publisher, Signature Books, to recall all copies of the book it has published by Dr. Meldrum. (Why would Dr. Southerton choose to be published by a publisher who would print a book by a Sasquatch researcher?)
JOHN TVEDTNES: Career apologist with FARMS and retired scholar from BYU. Masters degree in linguistics, but self-appointed expert on DNA studies. Tvedtnes has written at length on the DNA issue. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ancients/050713dna3.html. He was recently forced to retract two of the boldest claims he made in the above mentioned FAIR DVD they were so blatantly incorrect.
Actually Mr. Tvedtnes was not a “career apologist,” despite Dr. Southerton’s attempt to dismiss his credentials with such phrasing. He is a Hebrew scholar whose research has been published in numerous scholarly publications including the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. He has taught at both BYU and the University of Utah. He has lectured in the history and sociology departments of Haifa University and presented papers at numerous symposia, including a paper on “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon” at the non-LDS thirteenth annual World Congress of Jewish Studies.
As to Mr. Tvedtnes being “recently forced to retract” claims, I can assure you that there was no force involved. An error was drawn to Mr. Tvedtnes’ attention and FAIR is making a change in the video—which is more than can be said for errors brought to Dr. Southerton’s attention in his publications.
WARREN ASTON: Travel agent and UFO expert. No formal training. Aston runs a travel agency (Bountiful Tours) that conducts tours to Arabia after discovering what Terryl Givens and Daniel Peterson consider to be the strongest archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. In his book “By The Hand of Mormon,” Terryl Givens touts Aston’s work as “the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”
Aston is also an internationally recognized “expert” on UFOs. Aston speaking at a UFO Symposium http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NikV6YDW4Lk Aston claiming UFO cover-up at Pine Gap (US military base in Australia) http://www.ufoinfo.com/ufoicq/auforn4.shtml Aston’s tour company http://www.bountifultours.com/tour.html
Here is another individual that Dr. Southerton indicates is an apologist “clown” who, undoubtedly, would not label himself as an apologist. Perhaps this is Dr. Southerton’s way of dismissing the geographic verification of Nahom in 1994 by Mr. Aston.
I’ve read past comments by Dr. Southerton where he objects to being labeled a “plant geneticist” when discussing DNA issues because he feels that the phrase is used as a way to dismiss his contribution to the topic. (As in ‘plant geneticists don’t have the credentials to discuss ancient human DNA.’) And, yet, here we have Dr. Southerton utilizing the same tactic which he deplores by labeling Mr. Aston a “UFO expert” as a way to discredit anything he may have to contribute on the matter of Book of Mormon archaeology.
RODNEY MELDRUM: (no relation to Jeffery Meldrum but you must wonder) Studied marketing for one year at Utah State University. Self-appointed “senior scientist” promoting Great Lakes Geography theory. He is also firmly in the creation science camp, which believes the earth is only 6,000 years old. Currently involved in a stoush with FAIR apologists who are firmly in the Mesoamerican geography camp. http://www.bookofmormonevidence.org/index.php
Nice spin by Dr. Southerton, but he does violence to the facts. FAIR does not promote any particular geography theory. In fact, if Dr. Southerton did his homework, he would find that FAIR includes resources for several geographic theories. The “stoush” (whatever that is) has to do with the way in which Mr. Meldrum presents his theories and with his research and scholarship.
Surely Dr. Southerton can understand disagreements over research, scholarship, and presentation?
STEVEN JONES: Professor of Physics at BYU. He was “let go” from BYU because even they were embarrassed by his behavior. Widely known in the US as one of the scientists who believes that the US government was behind the demolition of the World Trade Centers. Jones was a scientific adviser for a group of Great Lakes apologists and has dabbled in Book of Mormon archeology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_E._Jones
Another odd choice by Dr. Southerton as an apologist “clown.” While Dr. Jones’ feelings relative to the 9/11 tragedies are controversial, how do those feelings make him an apologist for anything other than his 9/11 theories?
Even if Dr. Jones is a “scientific adviser for a group of Great Lakes apologists,” does that make him an apologist himself? Dr. Southerton has served as a scientific advisor to groups that stake out religious positions; does that make him an apologist (let alone a “clown”)?
ALLAN WYATT: FAIR watchdog and webmaster with no publicized academic background. According to FAIR Wyatt’s words “should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief or practice.”
Other than the misspelling of my name (it is “Allen”), I can find no real quarrel with this very short bio. I could be considered a watchdog; I am FAIR’s webmaster; I have no publicized academic background; and my words should not be considered official.
If Dr. Southerton wants to continue his studies about me, he is sure to find out that I am a technical writer who has quite a lengthy publication history—but all in the realm of boring computer books. In this regard I have just as much academic background as the critic Brent Metcalfe, who is also a technical writer in the computer industry. Such credentials seem good enough to allow Mr. Metcalfe to publish and edit for Dr. Southerton’s publisher, Signature Books.
MICHAEL ASH: FAIR apologist with no publicized academic background. Author of newly published FAIR book “Shaken Faith Syndrome” http://www.shakenfaithsyndrome.com/#about. According to FAIR Ash’s words “should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief or practice.”
It would appear that Dr. Southerton believes that because Mr. Ash’s words “should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief or practice” that they can be ignored. It is convenient how he dismisses those words without engaging the arguments those words make. I certainly hope that Dr. Southerton has not exercised such an illogical approach in his studies and career. (In fact, Dr. Southerton decries the ad hominem approach of apologists while sharpening his own dismissive rhetorical skills.)
I would have hoped for better from Dr. Southerton and his circus assemblage—if he can’t even get the simple things right, how can we hope for better in his more serious presentations? But, perhaps, his post is merely a manifestation of a stage of post-Mormonism that he feels he must traverse in his spiritual journey to the promised (non-Mormon) land. My best certainly goes out to him in his Quixotic quest.