The remainder of this page is taken directly from The Unexamined Faith blog. Some of these points are stronger than others, I think. (Minor spelling changes have been made)

If there is a hub around which LDS epistemology revolves, surely it is to be found in Moroni’s Promise:

Moroni 10:3-5: v. 3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. v. 4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. v. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Believers in the Book of Mormon read the above passage at the end of the final chapter of the book, and interpret it to mean that it is possible for the reader to pray about the Book in order to find out, directly from the Holy Ghost, whether the Book of Mormon is true.

As a young missionary, Moroni’s Promise was the bedrock of my efforts to convert investigators to Mormonism. I would regularly challenge people to pray to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, as ostensibly per Moroni 10: 3-5. I would do so, not only before they had read the entire book, but when their acquaintance with the Book of Mormon consisted of nothing more than a brief synopsis recounted by myself or my companion, and a handful of assigned passages. If we could convince an investigator to pray to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, it bode well for the prospects of them further agreeing to baptism.

As the years have passed, I have become disillusioned with LDS epistemology. One of my specific issues is the passage referred to as Moroni’s Promise or Moroni’s Challenge. What follows is a laundry list of problems with Moroni 10: 3-5 compiled into a single piece.

  1. It is to the Lamanites only

    In my ever so humble opinion, this consideration alone invalidates Moroni’s Promise. In verse 1 of Moroni Chapter 10, the author informs the reader that in this chapter he is not addressing the general readership; he is not speaking to you. He starts the chapter by saying “[n]ow I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites…”

    In verse 23 he reiterates that he is still speaking solely to the Lamanites (“And Christ truly said unto our fathers…”). The author does not address a general audience (i.e. you) until verse 24 when he switches audience and “speak[s] unto all the ends of the earth…”

    Further illustrating the different audiences being addressed in Moroni 10 is the different standards that must be met by the reader in order to receive the supernatural confirmation that it is true. The conditions laid out in vs. 3-5 are rather stringent—ponder God’s mercy through the whole history of humankind, ask, with a sincere heart, with real intent, (already) having faith in Christ. But when speaking to the general readership, the author doesn’t seem to require the same high standard as laid out for the Lamanites, because for the general readership (verse 28) “…God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.”

    When read in context, we discover that the first 23 verses of Moroni 10 are not written to you and me, only to the Lamanites, and so the challenge/promise found therein is directed to the Lamanites alone. Nothing in the passage or surrounding context indicates that it applies to anybody else.

    Even if the Book of Mormon narrative is non-fiction and the Lamanites once existed, they have disappeared from history, from the archeological record, from the genetic pool, and from LDS publications and discourse. The challenge presented by the author of Moroni 10 is directed to an apparently not currently existent audience.

    Members, leaders, and missionaries of the Church believe that we ought to follow Moroni’s imperative, and pray to discover whether the Book of Mormon is true. However, if we “liken the scriptures unto ourselves” (1st Nephi 19:23) and presume that Moroni’s Promise applies to non-Lamanites, we are interpolating something into the Book of Mormon that is not warranted by the actual text.

    [Note by bwv549: BKHJH has offered what I view as some valid pushback on this point here]

  2. There is no reason to accept the promise as legitimate unless you already accept the BoM as legit. It requires “begging the question.”

    There is a logical fallacy referred to as “begging the question.” The term is widely misunderstood and is misapplied to mean “implying the question…” or “leading us to ask.” The actual meaning of “begging the question” is that an argument already assumes the truth of the conclusion in its premises. In other words, the reason that I offer in order to convince you of a conclusion is only believable if you already accept the conclusion.

    If, for example, I am trying to convince you to trust me, you might ask me why you should trust me. A fair question. If I answer that you should trust me because I never lie, is that a convincing reason? For most of us it would not be a good enough reason to extend trust because in order to accept that I never lie (the premise) you have to have already accepted the conclusion (that I am trustworthy). You cannot accept the premise unless you have already accepted the conclusion.

    If upon reaching the final chapter of the final book of the Harry Potter series you found a passage that claimed that if you prayed about the Harry Potter books, the spirit of Dumbledore would let you know that it’s true, would you do it?

    Of course not. But why not? Because you do not believe that the Harry Potter series is true. You do not accept that the Harry Potter books correspond to reality in any meaningful way. You do not accept the narrative, you do not believe that the characters exist, and do not read the supernatural aspects of the book to be anything more than fantasy.

    Why would you accept a promise or a challenge from a character about whom you have no reason to think is anything other than fictional?

    You would not.

    Yet upon reaching the final chapter of the Book of Mormon, people do pray to find out if it is true. Why pray about Moroni’s Promise when you would not extend the same courtesy to Dumbledore’s Promise? The reader must have already accepted the idea that Moroni is less fictional than Dumbledore; you would not accept the challenge if you believed that Moroni is fictional.

    The “begging the question” aspect of the passage is that you would only accept that the promise is real if you already accepted that the context in which it is found is likewise real.

    The very act of making that prayer requires that the person accept that the Book of Mormon is an actual book of history, and the religious nature of the challenge requires that the reader has already accepted the books supernatural claims.

  3. Takes advantage of Cognitive Dissonance

    Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance says, in a simplified nutshell, that we do not like it when our attitudes and beliefs contradict (i) with our other attitudes and beliefs or (ii) with our behaviors, so we try to change an attitude/belief or an attitude so that they are in harmony (or consonance). Interestingly, it turns out that when an attitude/belief is in conflict with a behavior, people are more likely to change the attitude/belief than the behavior (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). I’ll reiterate that. If an attitude/belief/opinion is in conflict with a behavior, we are more likely to change the attitude/belief/opinion than we are to change the behavior.

    So what if, for example, I believe smoking is bad for me, and yet I smoke? I am more likely to downplay my belief in the harmful effects of smoking than I am to quit. Or what if I believe that sex before marriage is a sin, but I can’t keep it in my pants? I am more likely to give up my attitude regarding the sinfulness of premarital sex than I am to stop foolin’ around.

    A further example comes from Boyd K. Packer (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, pp. 54-55) who says that a testimony is found in the bearing of it… You don’t have a testimony? Well bear your testimony anyway until you have one. The act of bearing ones testimony will be dissonant with the mental state of not having a testimony. According to Dissonance theory, if you continue to bear your testimony, the mental state of not having a testimony will give way to the state of having a testimony.

    Yeah…you better believe that as a professionally trained educator, Boyd K. was familiar with Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory…

    Now apply this to Moroni’s Promise. You have the attitude that you desire the Book of Mormon to be true, you have the behavior of praying to know if the book is true, but you also have the belief that you don’t know if the book is true.

    So there is dissonance between the mental state of not knowing the Book is true and the desire to believe it is true, and there is dissonance between the state of not knowing, and the action of praying—an action that implies (as argued part 3, above) that you already accept the Book of Mormon to be true.

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which is likely to change.

    Consequently (and ever so frustratingly), even if the Book of Mormon is entirely a work of fiction, if one desires the book to be true, and prays to know if it is true, Cognitive Dissonance Theory suggests that that person’s belief will change to the affirmative.

  4. Relies on subjective emotions

    The evidence for the Book of Mormon is, by all accounts, a feeling—an internal, quantitative, subjective feeling. An emotion. In order to accept the legitimacy of Moroni’s Promise, we have to accept the existence of what I call Internal Truth Detectors (ITD’s). We have to assume that humans have an internal faculty for detecting supernatural or spiritual truth.

    Don’t get me started.

    (i) Emotions don’t carry semantic content

    Feelings don’t convey the right sorts of information that would be required to judge truth. Feelings can really only tell you about your emotional reaction to something. They might tell you “I love the book,” “I was frightened by the book,” or “the book is a frightful bore” but will not tell you anything about its relationship to external reality.

    If I say “I love my son,” that feeling tells me about my feelings about my son, but tells me nothing objective or factual about my son himself. Feelings tell you about your subjective perception of something, but they do not tell you objective information about the thing itself.

    (ii) There is no reason to believe in ITD’s

    Well maybe your religion has told you that you ought to accept the proposition that you have an internal spiritual truth detector. If so, that proposition is part of a larger set of propositions. And you would not accept that specific proposition unless you have already accepted the wider set of beliefs containing the belief the subjective emotions detect truth. In other words, one would not believe in an internal truth detector unless one is already believes the religious propositions that the detectors are supposed to be detecting. coughbeggingthequestioncough

    (iii) The feelings are left undefined, therefore anything potentially counts as an answer.

    The feelings that one might experience upon accepting Moroni’s Challenge are subjective, qualitative, internal, and ineffable (Ineffable—imagine that I have never tasted pineapple. Could you taste it and describe it to me in such a way that I would know what pineapple tastes like. No? Because of its internal subjective nature, the experience of taste cannot be conveyed using words. It is ineffable.)

    Because of the above characteristics, it is impossible to define just what the feeling in question ought to be. So in practice, when someone prays about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, whatever sensation they experience (whether it is peace, excitement, joy, sadness (at not learning it earlier), warmth, a tingle, virtually anything), it can be interpreted (especially with the guidance of a helpful missionary) as the witness of the Holy Ghost.

    (iv) There is no test to distinguish ordinary emotions from ITD’s

    As believers and non-believers alike have noted, the feelings associated with the ostensive witness of the Holy Ghost, are indistinguishable from feelings experienced while looking at a majestic waterfall, holding your child, watching a Disney movie, hearing a moving choir, etc., etc. etc.

    Discouragingly, the good Lord has allegedly seen fit to judge you and me according to whether we believe and act upon the right set of propositions. Believing and acting upon the correct set of propositions requires a means to adjudicate between true and untrue propositions. The means of adjudicating is via our ITD’s. And He has offered no reliable guideline for distinguishing such ITD’s from ordinary natural feelings.

    (v) There is no way to compare ITD’s with those of others.

    Our brothers and sisters in different faiths also believe that they have reliable internal truth detectors. They believe with a certainty equal to that of the LDS that their cherished set of propositions is in fact the correct set. For the true believer, the only reasonable inference is that only the ITD’s of the LDS are accurate, while everybody else’s must be faulty, or that everybody else must be mistaking ordinary emotions for the witness of the spirit.

    The problem with this inference is that when one considers that the experiences in question are subjective, qualitative, internal, and ineffable, it is literally impossible to do a comparison between the experiences of any two individuals to see if once feels more valid, feels more truthish. If it impossible to do a comparison between such feelings, it is impossible to say that my feelings are better truth detectors than are your feelings.

    (vi) In light of (v), claiming a spiritual witness seems the height of arrogance.

    You are claiming that your emotions are accurate truth detectors, more accurate than those of believers in all other faiths, and all non-believers. The believers in other faiths, although just as sincere as you, are victims of their own faulty emotional truth detectors. Every last one of them. The hubris.

     And do you think that unto such as you;
     A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
     God gave the secret, and denied it me?—
     Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.
                 Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  5. Only supposed to try it on the Book of Mormon

    Let’s say, hypothetically, that I have never tried drinking a soda pop, and I decide to try it to find out which is my favorite. The first one you hand me is a root beer and I love it (it must have been Barq’s). If I were to exclaim “This is the one! I don’t need to try any others, this is my favorite!” how would you react? Would I be silly for thinking I like it better than all the ones I have never tasted?

    I try Moroni’s Promise, and I get an emotion that I interpret as the witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. That fact alone is no indication that I won’t get exactly the same feeling if I were to pray about the Quran, or the writings of Mary Baker Eddy or Ellen White, or the Vedas, or Dianetics, or the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the Bhagavad Gita, etc., etc.

    The only reason to try it on the Book of Mormon only, and then stop the search, is that you are already predisposed to believe the Book of Mormon. In which case, Moroni’s Promise hardly constitutes a legitimate test. It amounts to “I’m going to pray about it, and whatever I feel means that it’s true. Then I’ll never try it on another text.

    As was argued in point 2, once again we see that the reader is only going to be willing to accept Moroni’s Challenge if already predisposed to believe in the Book of Mormon.

  6. Why would it even occur to Moroni to suggest praying to find out if it’s true?

    This seems fishy to me. Moroni is, like his father Mormon, according to the text, among things, a historian. As a historian, he would presume that the record he is providing would itself be the evidence of the history of his people. If he has dedicated a large portion of his life to preserving the evidence of the history of the Book of Mormon people, why would he include an odd instruction to pray, essentially for evidence of what he has just provided evidence for?

    You might counter that the Book provides a history of the people, but the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ. That might very well be a stated purpose of the book, but Moroni’s Promise doesn’t ask the reader to pray about whether Jesus is real, or if Jesus is the savior. It only asks the reader to pray about whether the book is true.

  7. So many qualifiers

    A clever tactic used by the author of Moroni’s Promise is to load it with qualifiers. When praying to find out if the Book of Mormon is true, the seeker has to (i) remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men

    (An odd criterion—keep in mind that God is merciful? Why not keep in mind that God can answer prayers? That would make more sense) (ii) from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things,

    (For serious? In order to get an answer, you need to keep in mind the entirety of human civilization. That’s a bit of a tall order)

    (iii) and ponder it in your hearts.

    (If you don’t get the right answer you might not have pondered enough, or the right aspects of all of human history)

    (iv) I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ

    (The ball is in your court. Do it correctly. Don’t pray to Jesus, only to the Father, in His name. Do it wrong, it might not work)

    (v) and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart,

    (Left undefined, you have to really really really want to know. If you didn’t get an answer, it doesn’t mean the book is not true, maybe you just were not sincere enough)

    (vi) with real intent

    (Again, undefined. If you don’t get answer, it does not mean the book is not true, just maybe your intent was a bit wonky)

    (vii) having faith in Christ

    (Right. Faith. In order to know whether I should believe this one supernatural claim, I already have to have a prior supernatural claim preparing the way for it.)

    Because of this long list of criteria, there is always room for doubt about any negative answer. If one does not get the affirmative, it is always possible that the seeker failed on one or more of the ambiguous criteria listed in the promise.

    So, the affirmative will always mean it is true, but the negative does not mean it is not true.

    This allows the believer in the Book of Mormon to take advantage of the fallacy of special pleading (sometimes referred to as the No True Scotsman fallacy). To illustrate, consider the following hypothetical thought experiment:

    Let’s say some intrepid researchers were able to survey every seeker who accepted Moroni’s Challenge and prayed to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Let’s further say that the results were 1 in 10. 10% of our hypothetical seekers believe they receive an affirmative answer to their prayer and accept the truth claims of the Book of Mormon. This leaves 90% feeling nothing, or feeling that the book is not what it claims.

    If this hypothetical study were carried out, and the results handed to believers in the Book of Mormon, how would they interpret it? It wouldn’t matter. One of the reasons is that the list of qualifiers in the promise give a handy way of dismissing any counter evidence. The believer could dismiss the 90% by saying that some didn’t pray with real intent, or some didn’t pray with faith in Christ, some maybe didn’t have a sincere heart, etc. So the believer is in the enviable position of being able to accept any confirming evidence as proof that the book is true, while dismissing all counter evidence as irrelevant.

  8. …ask if these things are not true?

    Just between you and me, internet, this seems to be a nod and a wink from the actual author of the Book or Moroni. “I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true…” Ask if they are NOT true. (If anybody tries to argue that this is Popperian Falsifiability, I might have to track you down and punch you in the duodenum)

    So you ask if these things are NOT true …and you get a “yes” answer, then the answer is “yes, they are not true.” …and you get a “no” answer, then your answer is “no, they are not true.” Nudge nudge, wink wink.

  9. In what sense is it true?

    a. The book is wrong on all sorts of factual details like virtually every mention of the flora and fauna, food, wheels, silk, steel, etc.

    b. It is ambiguous enough that its central claims can’t even be pinned down—where did it happen? Was the land empty? Are modern day Indians of the House of Israel?

    c. The theological claims are basically biblical, or unrelated to Mormonism, so there are no unique truth claims in that sense.

    d. There were changes to the book. And some are significant. It initially taught a concept of God that was much closer to Trinitarian, before being changed to reflect the tripartite conception of the Godhead of later Mormonism. That is not a grammatical change, it is a change in bedrock doctrine.

    So what? Mistranslations? Misinterpretations? In the most correct book in the world?If horses and elephants and silk and geography are so easily misunderstood, there is no reason to presume that the theological and doctrinal aspects of the book are not equally misunderstood?

    The book says some very straightforward things. It is extremely unambiguous that the Jaredites and Lehites were guided to a land with nobody else there. There are multiple passages that are clear on this matter. However, after evidence started to accumulate that this claim was untenable, apologists discovered that a “closer reading” “implied” that there were already inhabitants there. If the very clear and straightforward claims of the Book of Mormon can be revised upon a “closer” reading, what’s to say that the theological claims are not equally ambiguous.

    The “truth” of the Book of Mormon is a moving target, is vacuous, and amounts to nothing more than the warm fuzzies unrelated to anything in external reality.

  10. Many (most?) people don’t even read it prior to praying about it.

    Speaking from my own missionary experiences, the norm, at least in my mission, was to have the shortest space of time possible between first contact and baptism. The standard discussions we used tried to get us to commit the investigators (‘gators) to baptism on the second lesson. However, “if guided by the spirit” we were to try to commit them to baptism on the first discussion.

    (Aside: on my first night knocking on doors, we met a family, and I committed to baptism on the first discussion. I thought “Man, this mission thing is gonna be a breeze…)

    Because we were trying make the conversion process happen on such a short time frame, it was standard practice to get our ‘gators to pray about it after reading only a few chapters. Usually 3rd Nephi 11 (when Jesus visits the Nephites), or if we were feeling ambitious, 3rd Nephi 11-26 (the entire visit of Jesus to the Nephites), and of course Moroni 10: 3-5 (but not the whole chapter, I see why now…).

    So even if our ‘gators accepted Moroni’s challenge and received an affirmative response, they still had no clue what they were claiming to believe to be true. They said, in effect, “I don’t know what the content is, but I believe it to be true.

  11. Moroni’s Promise inoculates the believer against the effects of real evidence.

    Not only is accepting Moroni’s Promise likely to lead the seeker to accept the truth of the Book of Mormon claims independently of whether the book actually corresponds to reality in any way, it is also likely to lead the seeker to reject evidence that could lead him or her to re-evaluate the truth of the book.

    The “proof” of the Book of Mormon is entirely independent of geography, geology, linguistics, population genetics, DNA, or even (as was pointed out in point 10) the content of the Book of Mormon. It is instead dependent upon the supposition that you have superior Internal Truth Detectors to anybody who disagrees with you.

    As a result, counter-evidence has no effect on ones testimony of the book. Every time there is counter-evidence, the believer can simply fall back upon the “spiritual witness” of his or her Internal Truth Detectors and confidently dismiss any and all criticisms of the Book of Mormon.

Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 38, 203-210.