MORONI'S CHALLENGE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON

Moroni 10:3-5:
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.
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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Believers in the Book of Mormon ("BoM") 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 BoM in order to find out, directly from the Holy Ghost, whether the BoM is true.

As many of us already know, there are several issues with the passage referred to as Moroni’s Promise or Moroni’s Challenge, so I decided to compile all the issues I could think of in a single place.

1. It is to the Lamanites only

This consideration alone invalidates Moroni’s Promise. In Verse 1, Moroni informs the reader that he is not addressing the general readership, and starts the Chapter by saying “Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites..."

In verse 23 he is still speaking solely to the Lamanites ("And Christ truly said unto our fathers…") and does not return to the general audience until verse 24 when he “speak[s] unto all the ends of the earth..."

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 Moroni’s Promise is a promise only to Lamanites. And considering that, even if they once existed, they have essentially disappeared (especially from LDS publications and discourse).

If we “liken the scriptures unto ourselves” and presume that the promise applies to non-Lamanites we are interpolating something that is not warranted by the BoM, and simply reading a meaning that we’d like to be true into the passages.

2. There is no reason to accept the promise as legitimate unless you already accept the BoM as legitimate.

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 have no reason to believe that the Harry Potter series is true. Why would you accept a promise or a challenge from a character for whom you had no reason to think is anything other than fictional? You would not.

Yet upon reaching the final chapter of the BoM, many 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 somehow less fictional than Dumbledore.

The very act of making that prayer requires that the person accept that the author is likely not fictional, and BoM is what it claims.

3. The challenge 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 with (i) other attitudes and beliefs or (ii) 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 behavior. So 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 if I believe that sex before marriage is a sin, and 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 from Apostle Boyd K. Packer, who said 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. 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 BoM 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. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which is likely to change.

Consequently (and ever so frustratingly), even if the BoM 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 in the affirmative.

4. The challenge relies on subjective emotions

The evidence for the BoM is, by all accounts, a feeling—an internal, qualitative, 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.

a. Emotions don’t carry semantic content

Feelings don’t convey the right sort of information that would be required to judge truth. They might tell you “I love the book,” “I was frightened by the book,” or “the book is a painful bore” but will not tell you anything about its correspondence to external reality.

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

b. There is no reason to believe in ITDs as a source for facts

Well maybe your faith has told you that you have a spiritual truth detector, but then, you would not accept that proposition unless you have already accepted the set of propositions that contains it. In other words, one would not believe in an internal truth detector, unless one is already disposed to believe religious propositions.

c. The feelings are left undefined, therefore anything 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, it 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 BoM, whatever sensation they experience (whether it is peace, excitement, 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.

d. There is no test to distinguish ordinary emotions from ITD’s

As believers and non-believers alike have noted, the feelings associated with the ostensible 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. Discouragingly, the Lord has seen fit to judge you and me according to whether we believe and act upon the right set of propositions, even though He has offered no reliable guideline for adjudicating between real divinely inspired feelings and ordinary natural feelings.

e. There is no way to compare one's ITDs 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 one.

For the true believer, the only reasonable inference is that only the ITD’s of the LDS are accurate, everybody else’s must be faulty, or they 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 one 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.

5. We are only supposed to try it on BoM

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. 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 BoM 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.

The only reason to try it on the BoM and then stop the search, is that you are already predisposed to believe the BoM. 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."

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

This seems fishy to me. Moroni, like his father Mormon, is, among other 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 BoM 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 BoM 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 quatifiers. When praying to find out if the BoM 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 pondered 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. If you 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. 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 BoM to cherry pick the potential supporting evidence.

Hypothetical thought experiment:

Let’s say some intrepid researchers were able to survey every seeker who accepted Moroni’s Challenge and prayed about the truthfulness of the BoM. 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 BoM. 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 BoM, 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. 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 the counter evidence as irrelevant.

8. Are they not true?

Just between you and me, 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…” (If you try to argue that this is Popperian Falsifiability, I might have to track you down and punch you in the duodenum)
If you ask if these things are NOT true, and you get a “yes” answer, then the answer is “yes, they are not true.” If, on the other hand 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 flora and fauna, silk, steel, etc.

b. It’s 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?

d. There are changes in 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 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, what’s to say the theology of the book is not equally misunderstood?

e. 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 very clear and straightforward claims of the BoM can be revised upon a “closer” reading, what’s to say that the theological claims are not equally ambiguous.

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

10. Most people don’t even read it prior to praying about it.

This one comes 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 them 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 in such a short time frame, it was standard practice to get our ‘gators to pray about the BoM 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 (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. Innoculates against evidence.

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

As a result, counter-evidence has no effect on one's testimony of the book. Every time there is counter-evidence, the believer can simply fall back upon his or her “spiritual witness” and confidently dismiss any and all criticisms of the BoM.


The summary above is by an anonymous poster on the "Recovery From Mormonism" website discussion forum. It has been slightly edited and formatted for clarity. It is used by permission. Original, with other posters' comments, at http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1626082

For examples of similar claims from other religions, and their believers' testimonies of how their (non-Mormon) faith was confirmed by their own religion's version of Moroni's challenge, see:

Testimonies Of Other Faiths

"Follow The Spirit" (video, 14 minutes)

For another article on this topic, see FAQ: Why not ask God about the Book of Mormon?

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©  2015 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included

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