Falsifying Moroni's Promise
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
(*) Note: This document is a work in progress. It is very spotty in parts.
(*) Note to self: I need a sub-section at the beginning of every section that answers the question "How can we falsify this?" (Kind of like what I did in the first section, but embellished.) >>
(*) Need an "all or nothing" quote at the end of each section
The LDS church presents a series of claims whereby a person can know if the church is true. It usually goes something like this:
Question: What is an example of a similar test that could prove that the church is false? 2 Nephi 2:27 says "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things". If that is true, then there must be an "opposition" test that could prove the church is false, in addition to the "truth test" outlined above.
Here is why I ask this: 2 Corinthians 13:1 says "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The LDS church uses this scripture to show that belief in only the Bible is insufficient to get a clear understanding of God's will, and that the Book of Mormon is needed to get a "more sure witness". In the same vein, isn't a "confirmation" test insufficient on its own? In other words, if I can prove that the church is true using Moroni's promise and I can't prove that the church is false using the "opposition" test, wouldn't I have a "more sure witness"? Isn't this better than just one test?
The importance of a falsifiable claim...
The church ought to be willing to present us with a "negation test". They make bold claims about having the "fullness of the restored gospel", so they should feel confident about presenting a test that could prove it false, secure in the knowledge that the church would not be proven false. However, the church hasn't provided us with a "negation" test, so I'll just use the claims they make (outlined above) and then test the negation of each one.
"If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed." —President J. Reuben Clark
Claim #1. Joseph Smith was a "chosen vessel", a pure and righteous man who was prepared by God to fulfil his purposes.
Can we falsify this claim? Can we demonstrate that Joseph Smith was a disreputable man, a man of low character?
So, what were some of the things Joseph Smith did?
Plenty of others here under point #2:
JS: sexual predator
“The church stands or falls with Joseph Smith. Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who wilfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed; his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an impostor cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth. If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect. The doctrines of false teachers will not stand the test when tried by the accepted standards of measurement, the scriptures." -- Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation vol 1, pages 188-189
Claim #2: God selected Joseph Smith to do his work via the First Vision. Byproduct: TFV gives us a true understanding of the nature of God.
There are numerous, conflicting accounts of the First Vision. They differ as to Joseph Smith's age when it occurred, the number of heavenly beings he claims to have seen, his motivation for praying, and the charge he received as a result. The earliest First Vision account appears 12 years after it was purported to have occurred. The official First Vision account, currently contained in the Pearl of Great Price was published a full 22 years after it purportedly occurred.
The church has only recently published an essay where they address the multiple First Vision accounts. The essay claims that the multiple accounts are "consistent" or "harmonious", but fails to address some important discrepancies. In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his "object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join"..."(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong).” These two statements are in direct contradiction to each other. No court would accept a testimony that was so flaky.
In 1823, Joseph Smith recorded in one of his journals that he prayed to to learn "the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist". Why would he need to pray about this if he had seen one or more supreme beings three years earlier?
Records show that in 1828, Joseph Smith attempted to join the Methodist church. Why would he do this if he had been told 8 years earlier (by God himself) that he should join none of the existing churches?
It is also worth noting that it wasn't necessarily God & Jesus that supposedly appeared in the 1838 account. It could've been Mormon & Moroni, or Lehi & Nephi, or some of JS's ancestors, for that matter.
“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.” – Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith
Claim #3: Joseph Smith possessed the gift of translation which he used to translate the Book of Mormon and other ancient records.
“If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught.” – Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138
Claim #4: The Book of Mormon contains a record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.
There is no such language as "Reformed Egyptian". It doesn't exist. The characters presented to Anton (name?) were gibberish.
In the entire scope of human history, there are no instances of people keeping records on plates (Why?)
Thomas Stuart Fergusun (Mormon archeologist) quote Nothing in the dirt matches what's in the book. (find the real quote)
Mormon Stories podcast about a non-Mormon archeologist who spent decades digging in Mesoamerica. He saw two dozen Mormon archeologists come through and one-by-one he saw them lose their testimonies and leave the church.
The Mormon church typically presents a proposition regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon that goes something like this: "Either the BofM is a divine record or Joseph Smith made it all up. But he was an uneducated farmboy, so he couldn't have made it all up. Therefore it must be a divine record." This is a false dichotomy: two propositions are presented, one of which sounds absurd (an uneducated farmboy couldn't have made it all up), so the other one must be true (it's a divine record). There could be more scenarios than the two presented:
Similar stories on the origin of the Native Americans:
Bible translation errors
Quotes from portions of Isaiah that hadn't been written yet.
Book of Mormon Torries This page has the quote from George Washington that sounds like Captain Moroni & the Standard of Liberty.
Autobiographical elements: dad's dream of the Tree of Life, King Benjamin as a parallel to the preacher of his time, George Washington quote that sounds strikingly similar to the standard of Liberty.
I think one of the reasons why the BofM "succeeded" is because shortly after it was written, it was transported away from its native territory (upstate New York) out to the Salt Lake valley where nobody would have heard of the stories that JS borrowed, or known the place names he used. (link to map/tables)
Editing errors, e.g. King Benjamin returns after he's announced as being dead.
Language problems: this video describes numerous language problems with the Book of Mormon that supports the idea that, yes, it was a relatively uneducated farmboy that wrote the book.
"The Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon... If it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church." - Ezra Taft Benson, The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion, October, 1986
Claim #5: The Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel and many "plain and precious" teachings that were lost from the Bible.
Doctrinal problems with The Book of Mormon:
What about the doctrines missing from the BofM?
Claim #6: You can read the Book of Mormon, pray to God, and gain a spiritual witness that it is true.
The church teaches that, if you pray and ask to know the truth, you will get a "burning in the bosom", or a "warm feeling" that testifies of the truth. This is the lynchpin. This is the key. This is the thing the missionaries tell you that will get you your testimony. The question is: Are your feelings reliable? Put another way, are humans really "truth detectors"?
Did you ever feel like someone was "just right" for you, and the relationship ended up being a disaster? Did your mom ever propose an activity and you hated the sound of it, but went anyway and ended up having a good time? If these things or anything like it have ever happened to you, then your feelings have been wrong. See also this video.
Premise: your best friend was a suspect in a crime and the judge decides your best friend is guilty. When you ask about the decision, the judge tells you "I prayed and asked God if your friend was guilty, and I got a warm feeling." Would you accept this, or would you demand hard evidence proving that your friend was guilty?
All major religions use this technique. Funny thing, everyone gets a "warm feeling" that their church is true. See the video on this page. Also, see this spiritual witness video. Question: Why would God give conflicting answers to prayers? I tried this by praying to Buddha to ask if Buddhism was true. You know what I got? Warm feelings.
Note that the Bible does not use the "trust your feelings" approach to determining truth. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
Paul H. Dunn got a lot of people to feel the spirit when he gave talks. Turns out his talks were full of lies. Didn't stop people from "feeling the spirit", though. Was the spirit a reliable "truth detector" in this case?
Heartsell. The church claims that they can manufacture "warm fuzzy" feelings and use it to sell goods to people. Is it possible that they're using this same sales tactic on their members & investigators?
Another thought to consider: Let's say one of the general authorities of the Mormon church needed to have a heart operation done. He has two doctors to pick from: The first is going to employ rigorously-tested medical techniques that have been proven to work. The second is going to just start the operation, and when he gets a "warm feeling" that he should cut somewhere, he's going to cut there. Which of these doctors do you think the general authority will choose? The point is, when your salvation is on the line, the GA's are content to let you rely on feelings. When their lives are on the line, the GA's are rational skeptics that demand scientifically-validated procedures.
The "spiritual witness" as "truth test" is circular reasoning: the BofM tells you that you can get this spiritual witness, and then how to interpret it. If the BofM isn't true, then the promise it gives isn't true either.
If the "pray and get a spiritual witness" method was a reliable way for determining truth, the BYU Science Dept. should be leading the world with scientific discoveries. However, this is not the case.
This can be explained by a well-known psychological phenomenon called Confirmation Bias.
It can also be described as a "self-fulfilling prophecy": I expected that I would get a warm fuzzy and that's what I got.
Humans are feeling creatures first and logical creatures second. You notice that missionaries don't hand out copies of the Book of Mormon and ask people: "Read this and see if it makes sense." You would approach it with a very different perspective if that was the case.
The wording in Moroni's promise is manipulative. If someone doesn't get a "positive" answer, supporters of the church can simply claim that they weren't "sincere" enough, or didn't have "real intent". Since there is no way to demonstrate "sincerity" or "real intent", it gives defenders of the church an out.
Claim #7: By learning that the Book of Mormon is true, you can also know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
This claim is built on a number of logical fallacies:
Claim #8: Through Joseph Smith the priesthood was restored.
No account of priesthood restoration until 4 years after church was founded.
Accounts missing details and/or embellished.
Claim #9: That priesthood has been passed from one successor to the next, continuing a chain of priesthood authority that extends to the modern church leadership
There are numerous "forks" in the chain of authority, starting with the succession crisis right after JS's death. If you believe in JS, you could have the foundation for believing in the Strangites or the Community of Christ.
In order to believe in the modern LDS church, it isn't sufficient to have a testimony of JS, you need to also have a testimony of BY. This calls into question BY's character. He committed numerous acts that were very similar to JS: polygamy, assassination, MMM etc.
There have been splinter groups that have shot off from BY, FLDS for example.
Claim #10: The modern-day leaders of the LDS church are all prophets, seers and revelators.
What about the LDS prophets that got things wrong?
How about prophets getting fooled by a forger?
What about all the prophets / presidents of the church that practiced post-manifesto polygamy? Or the ones that "lied for the Lord"?
How about in the year 1961 when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech, which inspired an entire race out of oppression. During this same time, David O. Mckay was preaching that blacks were lesser beings that did not need saving ordinances. Which one of these men sounds more "inspired" to you?
Consider the following interview:
Nelson “But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible."
Interviewer "Why is that?"
Nelson: "Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.”
President Russell M. Nelson 2007
Source: Pew Research Center: In Focus: Mormonism in Modern America
Joseph Fielding Smith quote about never going to the moon.
"When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." -- Deuteronomy 18:22
2 groups from the New Testament: Apostles & Pharisees. Which of those two groups do the modern-day LDS apostles look most like?
When was the last time you heard a prophesy, a sight, or a revelation?
Many historical prophets of the church said things that are now considered heretical (like Adam-God & Blood Atonement) or racist (like the priesthood / temple ban with blacks). If they truly were receiving revelation from God, we should be marveling at how transcendent their message was and how timeless their wisdom, but we don't. We make excuses for why they were wrong ("they were just speaking as men", "they were just offering their opinion", "they were a product of their time"). No one should ever have to make excuses like that if those "prophets" were indeed receiving the word of God. These equivocations also raise a number of thorny questions:
"The Church, the custodian of the gospel on earth, looks with full favor upon the attempts of men to search out the facts and laws of nature. It believes that men of science, seekers after truth, are often assisted by the Spirit of the Lord in such researches. It holds further that every scientific discovery may be incorporated into the gospel, and that, therefore there can be no conflict between true religion and correct science. The Church teaches that the laws of nature are but the immutable laws of the Creator of the universe." -- John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Bookcraft, 1960, pg. 139
Claim #11: The priesthood is on the earth today, helping to heal the sick, guide the church, and bless people's lives.
What does the modern-day priesthood actually do?
Baby blessings, baptisms, and grave dedications are largely ceremonial. These kind of things are done by clergy of other churches all the time. I see no great difference in the way these ceremonies are done by LDS priesthood holders.
A challenge: Can you cite an example of a priesthood blessing that "healed the sick" that couldn't be explained by the placebo effect? I've never seen a priesthood blessing restore an amputated/withered limb or restore sight to a blind man (as Jesus was recorded doing). The only place where priesthood blessings seem to function is in the foggy space where the healing effects could also be explained by natural or psychosomatic causes. Priesthood blessings don't seem much different from sugar pills when you examine the observable results.
Statistically, Utah is on par with every other state in the nation for rates of recovery from illness, injuries, accidents, etc. If priesthood blessings really healed people as they claimed, we would expect to see a statistical difference, but we don't.
How is the "priesthood guidance of the church" any different than the way a normal board runs a corporation? Is there any evidence of inspired leadership that doesn't compare with the leadership of the Catholic church, a university administration, or a business?
Claim #12: "By their fruits you shall know them". The modern church exhibits good "fruits" and is therefore a good "tree".
After looking at the history, it's straightforward to conclude that the church came from bad origins and is built on shaky ground. It's questionable as to whether the modern church could be any good considering it's checkered past. Many apologists will cite the saying of Jesus where he said "by their fruits you shall know them", sometimes adding that Jesus didn't say "by their roots you shall know them." This is an attempt to ignore / discount past wrongdoings. A number of questions need to be answered:
But some will want to discount all that and say that members of the church exhibit many good qualities:
If you're going to count those, you need to consider the whole picture. There are some negative elements to the modern-day LDS church culture that can't be discounted; you can't just count the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff.
I once asked myself the "good fruits" question. I did some research and discovered that Utah has very high levels of all of the following (sometimes more than any other state in the U.S.):
Consumption of antidepressants
Abuse of prescription drugs
Online porn subscriptions
Eating disorders (bulimia / anorexia)
Are these really "good fruits"?
Modern church has strayed from its foundation.
Most of the good aspects of the church can be attributed to the rank-and-file members. Most of the bad stuff can be attributed to culture / environment created by the top-tier leadership.
Claim #13: You should join the church and be an active part of it, because it is a good organization.
Why would you want to be part of an organization that punishes / excommunicates scholars & intellectuals?
Marlin K. Jensen said. "Maybe since Kirtland, we've never had a period of - I'll call it apostasy, like we're having now," If it's such a great organization, why are they losing so many members?
If the argument here is that a person should be part of a "good" organization, there are plenty of churches (and secular organizations) to pick from besides the LDS church. Most of those other "good" organizations don't use the mind-control tactics that the LDS church uses (see also The BITE Model Applied Toward Mormonism), nor do they have all of the social problems described in the previous section.
Put another way: the good features of the Mormon church are not unique, and the unique features of the Mormon church are not good.
Even after evaluating the (frankly) damning evidence, there are some faithful members who will nevertheless continue to believe. Why is this so?
We don't like thinking this of ourselves, but humans are basically herd animals.
I learned about the Asch conformity experiments, which demonstrated that people will conform to the beliefs of their peer group, even when their own senses are telling them that the group is wrong. This can be explained by another cognitive bias called the bandwagon effect. We have a strong tendency to do whatever the group is doing and believe whatever the group is believing. When you attend a Fast & Testimony meeting and hear everyone else saying "I know the church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.", you'll pick up on that and mimic it.
Some stay just to keep the peace in the house, even though they're miserable. See: In the Shadow of the Temple
(Break up the following into, say, "Investment", "Herd mentality", "Subjective perception", etc.)
Primacy effect: We latch onto the first thing we are exposed to / taught.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened." - Sir Winston Churchill
Mere exposure effect
Status Quo bias
Everyone is the hero of their own story. No one wants to think that they've been duped.
"It's easy to fool a man, but nearly impossible to convince him he's been fooled." -- Mark Twain
You can't find a guilty man in prison. Every inmate has an excuse or a way to blame someone else for why they're in there, despite the fact that they've heard hard evidence that has convicted them.
Oscar Wilde is credited with saying: "You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason himself into." I think it could be restated as: You can't reason someone out of a position that they worked themselves into emotionally. If a believer is unmoved by the reasons presented here, then I have to wonder: What reasons would convince them to question their beliefs?
Carl Sagan once said: "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back."
Breaking up my eternal family.
Where will you go?
Fear of being happy outside the church, despite testimonials to the contrary
"It is the mind-forged manacles that are hardest for us to break." -- William Blake
Many of us fall prey to having a subjective point of view. If the above information applied to a church that was not your own, you would have no difficulty seeing its founder as a conman, his works as fraudulent, and the church he founded as harmful. However, since it's your own, you don't see it.
See also: Why facts don't change our minds.
See also: Why Smart People Believe Weird Things
Consider this quote:
"Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true." —President Gordon B. Hinckley
Or this one:
"Let me quote a very powerful comment from President Ezra Taft Benson, who said, “The Book of Mormon is the keystone of [our] testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church…”
…It sounds like a “sudden death” proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.
Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from his lips, eventually receiving at his hands a set of ancient gold plates which he then translated according to the gift and power of God—or else he did not. And if he did not, in the spirit of President Benson’s comment, he is not entitled to retain even the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, and he is not entitled to be considered a great teacher or a quintessential American prophet or the creator of great wisdom literature. If he lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he is certainly none of those.
I am suggesting that we make exactly that same kind of do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. We have to. Reason and rightness require it. Accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is or else consign both man and book to Hades for the devastating deception of it all, but let’s not have any bizarre middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically." —Jeffrey R. Holland, “True or False,” Liahona, June 1996
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