Daniel "C" Peterson gave the final talk at the FAIRMormon conference, choosing to critique the criticizing “Letter to a CES Director” by Jeremy Runnells. I can summarize most of his talk by quoting him thusly, “I can understand why a normal person confronted by that would say, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got a life.’ ”
Joking aside, Peterson’s talk repeats a couple of mantras that critics “simply haven’t studied enough,” they are “impatient” with the lengthy “time it takes to lay a foundation to properly answer,” and that critics have “jumped ship too soon.”
If one can call the Mormon Church a ship at sea, apologists are way out in the sea holding onto half-bitten life-preservers and claiming all is well in Zion. They're all right because, well, their heads are still above water. If a member is drowning in doubts do they offer him part of their floatee? No, they accuse that person of not reading enough in the manual on how to swim.
While you drown they will also let you know of their prominent head-above-water pedestal position. Peterson made an ill attempt at comparing himself to scientists and critics with creationists who attack evolutionists. He writes, “They’ll ask that one question that the scientists can’t answer, and then they’ll have an epiphany, a revelation, and realize that all of their science is a lie…It happens to me all the time too.”
Imagine this comparison—on one side you have LDS critics who quote refereed scientific journals, notables like Michael D Coe (prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University), Dr. Robert K Ritner (professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago) and more—and on the other side you have the apologists who along with some study also ask you to rely on faith and trust them that the church is true. In Peterson’s bizarro-world critics are asking you for faith and the apologists are the scientists. Yes, you can laugh now.
After indirectly attacking critics as simple minded, impatient, ship-jumping nobodies, does Peterson ever actually address the content of the CES Letter? Meh. A little.
For example, to pull a D-Peterson and cherry pick one of his few, Peterson raises the criticism about the Book of Abraham, specifically about the “gibberish” of the names used for elements in Facsimile 1. Peterson tells us that in fact, Joseph Smith did get something right. He refers to item 9 (a crocodile) in Facsimile 1, denoted by Smith as "idolatrous god of Pharaoh". You see, the word "Pharaoh" is a true Egyptian word (unlike almost all of the other proper names Smith used in his denotations). And, in a convoluted connect-the-dots path, Peterson claims that the depicted crocodile is the crocodile god Sobek who is in fact an idolatrous god worshipped during the time that allegedly Abraham may have lived. See, Sobek is the second cousin of the ex-wife of a servant who fastened the laces of Pharaoh’s best friend. And Voilà! Joseph was right!
Ok, we’ll give them that one. Joseph Smith-1, Critics-629.
For a "plain and precious gospel", it is anything but plain. The apologists know their tasks are complex. It is a standard apologetic practice to comb all possibilities in the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon text and find any rare match to reality while ignoring all the hundreds or thousands of misses. Peterson decries critics for finding a singular flaw in his studies and immediately giving up. But his classic apologist cherry picking technique declares victory on singular hits in the sea of drowning misses.
His victory on the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh" is short lived. The word Pharaoh was a known and even popularized term in the early 19th century. The Book of Abraham uses the word about a dozen times in the text and another five times in the facsimiles. One could even argue more simply that Joseph Smith ran out of creativity in picking an imagined name of another idolatrous god, so he conveniently went with "Pharaoh" on that last one. Of the 17 uses of Pharaoh in the BoA, Joseph Smith absolutely incorrectly identifies Pharaoh in Facsimile 3 (item 2) which is not “king Pharaoh”. The depiction is not only a woman, instead of a man, but it is the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris. In item 4 of the same, he incorrectly claims the prince of Pharaoh who Egyptologists rightly identify as a woman (again) and the goddess Maat. The book of Abraham also teaches that Pharaoh and the Egyptians descended from Ham and Canaan (Abraham 1:21-22, 26-27). And that Abraham taught Pharaoh "astronomy" principles that are fodder for jokes at physicist parties. Not a single Egyptologist or physicist would agree with such claims. The list of misses goes on and on from there.
So, if Daniel “C” Peterson wants to find a tenuous claim correct in the Book of Abraham involving “idolatrous god of Pharaoh” he should give equal time to all of the many errors Smith made on the matter of Pharaoh. Errors which are far more clear to see than the dot-linking convoluted path Peterson picks through his cherry tree for the one score he steals.
His parting words are, “those who have been led by the Letter to a CES Director to abandon their faith, should, in my view, reconsider those Mormon claims and the abundant historical support that’s available for them. They simply haven’t studied enough.”
Translation (from a hat): “They simply haven’t cherry picked enough.”
Afterword, with regards to cherry picking. Even Peterson said in his own talk while defending against the Vernal Holley map that, "if you take a long enough list of place names, you’ll find parallels, especially if you’re “loosy-goosy” about it. You’ll find parallels with just about anything. This is easily done. I could show you words that definitely come from Arabic that occur in English, that have no relationship. They’re vaguely similar. They’re totally different definitions. If you have no standards for what counts as evidence, anything could count as evidence."
Exactly, Dan. NHM, Pharaoh and all that you claim as "really wonderfully strong things" are just what you said--vaguely similar coincidences. If the claims of the Book of Mormon that you find matched to reality were really more than mere coincidence, scholars the world over would have found them. Instead, they find, time and time again, the data is almost entirely (and proportionately) against the BoM claims.