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.Those of us who have heard him quote this the last couple of decades of his life, probably do not realize how much he used it throughout his life. Farrar published this statement in 1966. In his writing, Elder Maxwell was already quoting it in 1967 in his first book A More Excellent Way, 31:
The leader must also be articulate in presenting the cause and the case. Peter urged members of the Church in his generation to ". . . be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and in fear." (I Peter 3:15.) There are those who need only to hear to believe the message, but for others, the leader or teacher has an obligation to be articulate enough to build and to preserve a climate in which belief is possible.Elder Maxwell also used it in his addresses, such as this one which was published in the New Era in 1971:
Austin Farrer observed in writing praise about the late C. S. Lewis, "Though argument does not create conviction, the 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." To teach of immortality, for instance, is to deal with a doctrine which lies at the very center of men's chief concern. Is man "perchance, a prince in misfortune, whose speech at times betrays his birth?" The gospel helps us to know that men are princes in misfortune, and the good tidings we bear from the celestial castle are so important that we must not fail to develop our abilities to be believable, articulate bearers of that message.
With such a great message, can we afford not to be articulate in our homes and wherever we are? Passivity and inarticulateness about this “marvelous work and a wonder” can diminish the faith of others, for as Austin Farrer observed, “Though argument does not create belief, the 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 nourishes a climate in which belief may flourish.”Elder Maxwell used this quote again in his fifth book, That My Family Should Partake (1974), 27-28:
There is a reason for developing not only commitment but also capacity to spread and to defend the faith. George Macdonald warned that "it is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors." Even those, said Lehi, who have "tasted of the fruit" (the love of God) can yet fall away into forbidden paths and be lost. Why? Lehi says that some believers become "ashamed because of those" who scoff at them. Apparently the inability to defend the faith while under peer pressure may not only cost the soul of the uncertain onlooker, but the hesitant, inarticulate believer as well. No wonder Peter was desirous that believers "be ready always" to give answers to those who ask us reasons for our faith and hope. Austin Farrer counseled, "Though argument does not create conviction, . . . the lack of it destroys belief . . . what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create unbelief [sic], but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."
He used it again in his book A Time to Choose (1975), 80:
Passivity and inarticulateness about this "marvelous work and a wonder" can diminish the faith of others, for as Austin Farrer observed:A decade later he started a chapter on "Attitudes towards Faith" in We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ (1985), 52, with this excerpt:
"Though argument does not create belief, the 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 nourishes a climate in which belief may flourish." (Light on C. S. Lewis.)It is the task of this generation of articulate young members of the Church to know the implications of their beliefs so that they can communicate more effectively to others.
"Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. . . . 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." (Austin Farrer, "The Christian Apologist," p. 26.)The next year he used it in his historical examination of, "But for a Small Moment" (1986), 56:
The faithful who, through these "other books," possess such a treasure trove of truth—almost all of which came through the Prophet Joseph—have a basic challenge. Our challenge is not simply to shelve them but to delve into them, not alone to possess them, but to witness of them! A fundamental challenge was well described by Austin Farrer, who wrote of the need for articulate Christians: "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." (Austin Farrer, Light on C. S. Lewis, Jocelyn Gibb, ed. [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1966], p. 26.)On the next page (pp. 57-58), he paraphrased the quote applying it to the work of John Sorenson who had recently published his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985) with the then fledgling Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies:
We can and should be articulate believers. We can and should so proclaim, testify, and teach, readily and humbly, concerning these added books of scripture. Meanwhile, at the same time, we should honor and use the Holy Bible. Joseph Smith did both; apparently it never occurred to him to do otherwise.
What the "choice seer" translated is laden with significance. The work of several years by anthropologist John Sorenson of BYU and others in demonstrating more about possible "host" circumstances in ancient Meso-America is interesting. What is there described as plausible may not prove finally persuasive, but it creates a climate in which the interest can be quickened, as the portrait of a special people emerges in more striking color and intriguing detail.So as soon as FARMS began publishing its material, Elder Maxwell was already applying this quote to their work. In his addresses to FARMS, Elder Maxwell often used this quote. This is noted in Bruce Hafen's biography of Elder Maxwell, A Disciple's Life (2002), 510-513:
Much of such scholarly research has occurred only in recent years. Such materials were simply not available in Joseph Smith's time, even had he been able to use them. Instead, Joseph, by his translating, was removing' major stumbling blocks strewn in the path of those who would believe.
To address the questions of the mid-1980s about the origins of the Book of Mormon, Neal especially encouraged the scholars at FARMS. Their approach to Book of Mormon research was different from that of most earlier LDS scholars, who had "focused heavily on external evidence for the veracity of the book," such as archeology. Rather, the FARMS people looked to Hugh Nibley as their model. He has long been engaged, as Noel Reynolds summarized, in studying parallels between the ancient world and the Book of Mormon:Looking at the history of Elder Maxwell's use of this quote shows that he picked it up almost as soon as it was published, used it repeated throughout the rest of his life, and applied it to the work of the Institute that would one day bear his name. It used to serve as something of an unoffical motto.
The large majority of the parallels were drawn from texts and historical facts that have been uncovered since the Book of Mormon was first published. Nibley asks time after time, how is it that Joseph Smith in 1829 could throw some passing detail into the Book of Mormon . . . that squared with scholarly knowledge that would not be available for years or even decades?
This approach simply made sense to Neal, who had long known, as Truman Madsen said of him, that "there really are so many things about the Book of Mormon that make the notion that it was concocted in the nineteenth century just plain unscientific as a conclusion."
John W. (Jack) Welch had created FARMS as a private nonprofit research foundation in 1979, the year before he joined the law faculty at BYU. In 2000, FARMS officially became part of BYU. Jack had made a Nibley-like discovery about the Book of Mormon when he was on a mission in Germany in 1967. He heard in a university lecture there about a Hebrew literary form called chiasmus, which he intuitively believed would be in the Book of Mormon, because those who wrote the original text came out of a Hebrew culture. Neal loved hearing how Jack had gotten up in the early morning hours one day to find two unmistakable examples of chiasmus in King Benjamin's speech in the Book of Mormon. Citing this as an example of faithful scholarship, Neal would say, "It's because people believe that I think they're led to these things, not because they are skeptical."
Neal could see his own instincts at work here. Applying this model, said Jack, one begins his or her research "with gospel premises . . . with the mind [and scholarly research tools] still involved but not necessarily accepting premises from the non-LDS scholarly context." This was a very different approach from that of some Latter-day Saints who had studied at Protestant divinity schools and would sometimes begin religious research with the "secular vocabulary and viewpoint of non-LDS biblical scholars and import that into a Church setting." This believing approach was basically the same attitude to which Neal had come as a university student himself when he began to integrate secular and religious knowledge by looking to the gospel for the major premises in his reasoning.
As he met with faculty leaders in Religious Education, Church History, and FARMS, Neal conveyed his confidence in the Church's historical roots and urged the scholars to work at "historical contextualizing," such as grounding "the Book of Mormon in ancient history." Jack Welch later said that Elder Maxwell and Hugh Nibley were the two people who most influenced the direction and development of FARMS, although the FARMS scholars always knew that Neal's interest didn't equal Church endorsement.
Neal has occasionally reminded all of these scholars of the reason for his encouragement to them. He has no interest in trying to prove in some scientific way that the Book of Mormon is true. Neal looks to faithful scholarship as a source of defense, not offense, often quoting Austin Farrer's comment on C. S. Lewis: "Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." Or as Neal put it in 1983: "Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith."
Good research can thus verify the plausibility of religious propositions, offsetting attacks that claim to be based on physical or logical evidence. Neutralizing those attacks what Lewis called using good philosophy to answer bad philosophy doesn't seek to prove the gospel's truth; it has the more modest but crucial purpose of nourishing a climate in which voluntary belief is free to take root and grow. Only when belief is not compelled, by external evidence or otherwise, can it produce the growth that is the promised fruit of faith.
What came "out of obscurity" from these efforts, which Neal encouraged rather than directed, is a growing body of sound LDS scholarship that has built enough of a track record that it gradually shifted the momentum of critical debate about many LDS issues. In 1996, for example, two rising Protestant scholars, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, presented a paper to their colleagues assessing "the state of the debate between believing Latter-day Saint scholars and anti-Mormons regarding the Book of Mormon and related matters." They concluded that it is a "myth" for scholars of other faiths to believe that few LDS scholars have adequate training in "historiography, biblical languages, theology, and philosophy." They found, through visiting BYU and reviewing the relevant literature, that there are indeed "legitimate Mormon scholars . . . 'skilled in intellectual investigation; trained in ancient languages'" who "are not an anti-intellectual group." Further, "Mormon scholars and apologists have . . . answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms." Of greater concern to Mosser and Owen was their finding that
currently there are (as far as we are aware) no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings. A survey of twenty recent evangelical books criticizing Mormonism reveals that none interacts with this growing body of literature. Only a handful demonstrate any awareness of pertinent works. Many of the authors promote criticisms that have long been refuted. A number of these books claim to be "the definitive" book on the matter. That they make no attempt to interact with contemporary LDS scholarship is a stain upon the authors' integrity and causes one to wonder about their credibility. . . .Reading these conclusions and seeing similarly encouraging results in other academic arenas must have reinforced Neal's conviction about the value of "mobilizing the resources" of BYU's trained scholars.
At the academic level evangelicals are . . . losing the debate with the Mormons. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not.