FAQ: "Why don't you pray and ask God about the Book of Mormon?"

"The Book of Mormon says (Moroni 10:4) that if you ask God if it is true, with a sincere heart and with real intent and with faith in Jesus Christ, he will manifest its truth to you. I challenge you to do this!"

"Why don't you ask God whether the Book of Mormon is true? James 1:5 says, 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.' Are you afraid to ask God?"

"You will know that the Book of Mormon is true only by asking God. Only he (through the Holy Ghost) can prove it to you!"

My response:

     I have not prayed to God for information as to whether the Book of Mormon is true or not. There are several reasons why. That I am fearful of what the result of such a prayer would be is most assuredly NOT one of those reasons.

     There is no need for me (or anyone) to pray to any deity to find out whether the Book of Mormon is true, because there is abundant information already available to show quite clearly that it is false. Why, then, should anyone bother God to get information that is ready at hand? Should I ask God what the speed of light is, or the date that Columbus discovered America, or the time of the next flight to Chicago? Should I ask God about every fantastic claim made by faith healers and con men? If there is a God who created us, then I must assume that he (or she or it) gave us a brain for the purpose of using it to the best of our abilities. That is, to examine facts, to draw conclusions.

     I do not accept James' advice as good, primarily for the reasons just stated, and because I do not consider him to be divinely inspired. But even if I did, I note that even James says to ask God only if you don't know already. He clearly does not seem to be saying that the only way to get wisdom is to ask God in prayer. In fact, the entire tradition of wisdom in Jewish thought, inherited by the early Christians (including James), indicated that wisdom was the result of careful and righteous reasoning and study, not of prayer. The believers at Berea (Acts 17:10) did this.

     Trying to obtain factual information by supernatural means - whether by prayer, crystal ball, ESP, card reading, astrology, necromancy, ouija board, or esoteric interpretation of supposedly sacred books - is so unreliable that only the most gullible people would accept the results as conclusive. Their unreliability is obvious when one considers the following:

     The results can differ and be contradictory: what Jack gets from his crystal ball contradicts what Mary learns from her cards, and neither agrees with what Phil sees in his dream after fasting and praying. Many religions urge prospective converts to "ask God" for confirmation of the truth of their claims, and one must ask, if God really uses this method to identify the "true church," why then do positive answers always seem to confirm the truth of the particular religion the supplicant is asking about? We hear no testimonies of someone who never heard of the Mormons, praying to ask God whether Church X is the "true church" (as suggested by the missionaries for that church), but receiving the unexpected message from God that Church X is false, but go check out the Mormons.

     Jim's prayer about the Book of Mormon results in his feeling "tingly" all over, and he thinks therefore that God is telling him that it is true, but Ann's prayer leaves her feeling cold and uncomfortable, and she therefore thinks that God is telling her that it is of the Devil. Both are very typical experiences. And then there are the testimonies of hundreds of devout Mormons who prayed, fasted, and devoutly obeyed every commandment of their church for years, repeatedly begging God to give them the testimony promised in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4), and they received nothing, and eventually came to the disappointing but unavoidable conclusion that perhaps God was indeed telling them - if only by silence - that it was not true.

     We know, from our modern knowledge of psychology, that "altered states of consciousness" (that is, sudden physical feelings of elation, "highs," hallucinations) can be easily induced in many ways, including chemicals (drugs), sleep deprivation, lowering of blood sugar through fasting, suggestion (hypnosis), and even auto-suggestion. We know, too, that these altered states of consciousness seem very real to the person experiencing them. The reality is enhanced, of course, if there is also a strong desire to accept the experience as real.

     The fundamental question, of course, is how one can validate the source and the trustworthiness of any "message" or "inspiration" that one might receive? Even devout believers in some form of the "prayer method" of obtaining knowledge must admit that some such messages cannot be relied upon. The devil can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) and thus deceive "even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). Even in the Mormon temple "endowment" ceremony there is a scene where Adam prays to God, but Lucifer responds, rather than God.

     The wise person, then, would validate anything which might claim to be a supernatural message. How? One suggestion, usually offered by defenders of "spiritual knowledge," is essentially that if the message says what you have been told it ought to say, then it is from God. If it testifies of Christ, then it is from God; if it does not, or if it is different from what I told you, it is false (Galations 1:8). This is, of course, basically fallacious: it is the fallacy of self-validation (also called "self-sealing"), a special form of the fallacy of circular reasoning (also called "begging the question").

     The only way to validate information is to check it using reliable information that we already have. That means using the facts, using our own experiences and the reliable experiences of others. And it requires a healthy skepticism.

     Anyone who asks us to believe some message obtained by prayer (or any other such supernatural means) which is contradicted by facts is asking us to be gullible and to abdicate our responsibilities as rational beings. Prophet Poopidoop's missionaries have presented you with a collection of his inspired writings. You read them, and they are obviously self-contradictory nonsense. Will you pray to God anyway, and ask for confirmation of what your common sense tells you?

     The test given in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4) is: "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."

     There are several reasons why one should question the reliability of this test, in addition to the general objections mentioned above about trying to obtain information by means of prayer or by reliance on something "feeling good" or "feeling right."

     First, why should one be required to use only the method of validation which the claimant (here, the writer of the Book of Mormon) offers? Is no other method of validating (or invalidating) it allowed? If not, why not? If not, then you are also bound, when Prophet Poopidoop presents his own collection of religious writings, to use only the test which he proposes: place Poopidoop's book on your front lawn and ask God to send lightning to destroy it if it is not true!

     Another objection to the Moroni 10:4 test is that it requires you to have already a "faith in Christ." If one already has "faith in Christ" then one does not need the Book of Mormon, since the purpose of the Book of Mormon, according to its cover (at least in recent editions) is to serve as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." This requirement also apparently does not permit a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or atheist from testing the book by this method, since they do not already have a faith in Jesus as the Christ.

     As for the challenge: I challenge you to kneel with your head on the ground facing Mecca, and thus to pray with sincere heart and with real intent: "O Allah, in the name of thy prophet Mohammed, give me assurance that the Holy Koran is true!" If you refuse - for any reason - to do this, then you have no right to suggest that I pray about your sacred book.

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 critique of Moroni's challenge, see Moroni's Challenge

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©  2003 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei

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