Defending the Faith: Mormon Apologetics Conference has grown from humble roots

Published: Thursday, July 28 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

2010 Conference of Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) held at Sandy, Utah, Aug. 5-6 2010 Monday, Aug.9, 2010. Daniel C. Peterson, perrennial speaker at the conference, BYU professor and prominent defender of Mormonism, addresses topic "The Obligation to Do Apologetics."Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

R. Scott Lloyd, Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

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The 2011 conference of FAIR, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, will be held on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 4-5, at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah.

From comically humble beginnings 12 years ago in California, the annual conference has grown into a premier forum where Latter-day Saint thinkers and scholars examine difficult and/or timely issues and present materials that deepen understanding and, quite frequently, strengthen faith.

Two speakers next week will focus on the concept of "translation." Samuel Brown, who teaches at the medical school of the University of Utah and whose Oxford University Press book "In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death" will appear shortly, is slated to discuss "Seerhood, Pure Language and Sacred Translation." And Brant Gardner, trained in Mesoamerican ethnohistory at the State University of New York and author of the insightful six-volume "Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon," will reflect on "The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon."

Stephen Ricks, a professor of Hebrew and Cognate Learning at BYU (and a former companion of mine in the Switzerland Zurich Mission), will examine "The Sacred Embrace in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Art."

Historian Steven Harper, associate chair of BYU's Department of Church History and Doctrine, is scheduled to analyze "Accounts of the First Vision." McKay Jones, who teaches English in Arizona, will discuss one of the more sensationalized aspects of Mormon history in his "Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Blood Atonement Balance Sheet."

Two presentations — Valerie Hudson's "A Reconciliation of Polygamy" and Ugo Perego's "Joseph Smith, the Question of Polygamous Offspring, and DNA Analysis" — will address the ever-controversial topic of plural marriage. Hudson, who was named one of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers" by the journal "Foreign Policy" in 2009, teaches political science at BYU. In January 2012, she will assume the George H. W. Bush Chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Dr. Perego is a senior researcher at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and a scientific consultant for GeneTree.com, both located in Salt Lake City.

A pair of speakers will separately address very current hot-button issues: Newell Bringhurst's "W. Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr.'s 2012 Quest for the Presidency: A Mormon Moment or Mormon Question … Revisited" will extend the thinking of his 2008 book "The Mormon Quest of the Presidency," co-authored with Craig L. Foster. (The two also recently edited an important collection of studies entitled "The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy.") Dr. Bringhurst, retired from California's College of the Sequoias, served as president of the Mormon History Association in 1999-2000. Cynthia J. Lange, a prominent immigration attorney based in northern California, will discuss "Borders and Boundaries: The Immigration Fervor that Threatens to Divide Us."

In recent years, the zombie-like Spaulding Theory of the Book of Mormon — according to which Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon stole an unpublished novel written by a defrocked and long deceased clergyman in order to create the founding text of their new church — has been disinterred yet again and, this time, advocated in a prestigious scholarly journal. Statistician Paul Fields will share some of the work that he and his collaborators have done in response to this latest sorry episode, in a presentation entitled "Book of Mormon 'Wordprint' Analysis: How to Do It Wrong … and How to Do It Right."

Roger Nicholson, a California-based computer specialist and a pivotal leader in one of the most exciting developments at FAIR, will report on it in "Something Wiki This Way Comes: How Collaborative Editing is Changing the Face of Online LDS Apologetics."

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