BEGGING TO DIFFER: Examining the faulty Logic of Moroni 10:4

(Originally printed in the Spring 2012 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

Mormonism is one of the most successful and unique religions in the history of the United States. Since its foundation almost 200 years ago, it has survived a number of internal rifts and external threats; it has also consistently responded to its critics’ challenges through scholarly articles, books, and conferences. Today, it claims to be one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world.1 In fact, its growth has been so remarkable that Sociologist of Religion Rodney Stark2 concludes that Mormonism:

… has sustained the most rapid growth of any new religion in U.S. History. Indeed, it stands on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert.3

Stark goes on to predict that at its current rate of growth, there will be over 260,000,000 Mormons by 2080!4 This is partly because for many years the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka LDS, aka Mormons) has aggressively evangelized. Many people are able to recognize a pair of LDS missionaries knocking on the door and asking to share their testimony. These missionaries often seem to answer, or at least deflect, many of the objections raised against LDS teachings, which leaves even confirmed Christians wondering how best to answer the false teachings of the Mormon faith.

Many good exposés have shown the doctrinal and historical problems in Mormonism; however, they all too often require the Christian apologist to remember extensive research and to examine documents not available to most laypeople. While there is nothing wrong with this and Christians should spend time studying and preparing for every opportunity, in reality, most do not. In addition, even when a Christian is prepared, one easily can be flustered into forgetting what one has read when confronted by well-trained Mormon missionaries. (This has happened to me, even though I have spent hours researching the claims of Mormonism.) Therefore, I propose another method of responding to the claims of this religion in a witnessing situation: The use of sound logic. By examining the failure of Mormonism to use logic consistently, we can see Mormons lose most arguments by default as well as by evidence. Specifically, I will look at the informal logical fallacies of “begging the question” and “stacking the deck” to show that LDS missionaries do not have as sound a system as they believe. If the LDS at the door bases his witnessing on faulty reasoning, then his arguments should not be accepted by any reasonable person. This article offers a brief primer for the typical Christian on clear thinking and suggests a way to counter one of Mormonism’s most consistent claims. One does not even need to know much about the LDS. Instead, an examination of the most popular verse used to convert—Moroni 10:4:

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 unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.5

and some of the typical arguments given along with it should suffice to prepare the Christian to answer the door with confidence.

This logical approach is not unwarranted: Some Mormons even have invited serious examinations of their faith. Early Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt said in an official LDS publication, The Seer (1853, pg.15):

If we cannot convince you by reason nor by the word of God, that your religion is wrong, we will not persecute you.

He goes on to say:

… we ask from you the same generosity … convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word [sic] of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information …6

Since at least some LDS seem willing to discuss the issues logically, Christians should also be prepared to do so. It is important for Christians to have a ready defense not simply to win arguments but, hopefully, to win souls in a loving manner. (cf.1Cor.13:1, 1Pet.3:15)

Begging the Question

One of the logical fallacies Mormon missionaries commit is termed begging the question, in which the one making a claim uses the conclusion as one of the premises. It would be like asking why the sky is blue and being told, “Because its blueness makes it look blue.”7 Instead of offering evidence, the claimant assumes one’s position is true and just reasserts the conclusion using other words, which leads to circular reasoning.

Christians sometimes commit this logical fallacy when they claim the Bible is God-inspired, because it states in 2Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God.” However, as scholars Dr. Norman L. Geisler (co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary and Veritas Seminary) and Ronald M. Brooks (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) point out:

… referring to the Bile as proof, there is an implicit assumption that the Bible has divine authority. But that is the very question being asked! You cannot just say that the Bible says it came from God; so does the Koran. This assumed premise restates the conclusion and begs the question.8

Instead, Christians need to offer solid reasons for the Bible’s reliability and authenticity before they can appeal to its inspiration. In a similar way, the Mormon commits the same logical fallacy when he uses Moroni 10:4 to prove the authority of The Book of Mormon.

LDS missionaries probably use this verse more than any other to get people to consider the Mormon faith through prayer. (In fact, I have found several copies of The Book of Mormon in libraries and bookstores in which the missionaries have written a note on the first page encouraging readers to consider this verse.)

This verse offers a simple test for validating The Book of Mormon and its claims: One prays for God to reveal the book’s truthfulness and, then, one will receive confirmation that it is, indeed, true. However, notice the verse assumes The Book of Mormon is telling the truth and offering a valid test; then, by applying this self-prescribed test, one should see The Book of Mormon is true. The argument can be illustrated in this way:
(1) The Book of Mormon is true.
(2) We know The Book of Mormon is true, because it says it is true.
(3) Therefore, The Book of Mormon is true.

In order for the test of praying for truth “with a sincere heart” to work, one must first assume that The Book of Mormon is telling the truth when it offers a valid test, yet the veracity of The Book of Mormon is the point under consideration! Thus, the LDS proposition “begs the question” and does not really offer a persuasive argument. Those aware of this logical fallacy should not feel any pressure to apply Moroni 10:4, for there is no logical reason given to do so.

This leads to another problem. For Mormons, praying “with a sincere heart” allegedly leads to the proof of inspiration. However, this assumes sincerity is a valid test for truth. When a non-Mormon prays following Moroni 10:4, he may have a very real experience—often called a “burning in the bosom”*—which supposedly testifies that The Book of Mormon is, indeed, God’s completed Word. A Christian can challenge this. After all, Christians have their own testimonies, as do people in other religions, yet the Mormon discounts this. However, if sincerity is all that is needed to establish truth, then any person of any religious faith can claim a sincere experience as “proof.” Once again, the Mormon has “begged the question.” Many people realize someone can be sincere yet sincerely wrong. For example, I may sincerely believe I am six-feet tall, but anyone with a tape measure can easily prove this wrong (unfortunately!), or I may sincerely believe taking poison will do me no harm, but reality’s truth will prove otherwise. As Christian scholar James White (Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries) states:

What is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. Truth exists independently of either you or I [sic]. … Truth is truth, and it will be true whether I believe it to be true or not.9

In addition, one could be insincere and still speak the truth. For example, an Elmer-Gantry** type of revival preacher may not believe the truths in his message, yet he may have converts to Christianity who are truly regenerated by those truths in his message. Sincerity is not the issue—the body of truths in the propositions is. In an argument, validity is determined through clear thinking and solid evidence. The Mormon needs to provide these in addition to any feelings he may have. Even if the Christian does not provide a reason, the fact the Mormon assumes sincerity is a valid test for the truth of The Book of Mormon commits a logical fallacy, and thus he assumes the burden of proof. We need not feel compelled to accept his claim without a better argument.

Stacking the Deck

Moroni 10:4 also commits the logical fallacy known as “stacking the deck.” In this fallacy, the person making a claim designs his, “b.reasoning in such a way that [he] can’t lose.”10 In other words, the person lays out the evidence so he will win no matter what, just as a card player who prepares a deck of cards ahead of time can always deal himself a winning hand; card players also call this “cheating.”

Once again, notice what Moroni 10:4 states:

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 true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

As White points out, this is a “no win” proposition for the non-Mormon:

If a person does not feel that the Holy Spirit testifies that the Book of Mormon is true, then the Mormon has a ready answer, provided by the passage itself—such a person must not have a sincere heart, or have real intent, or have faith in Christ. If a person were sincere, honest, and believed in Christ, then that person would have to know, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Book of Mormon is true. That makes things quite easy, for everyone who doesn’t believe in the Book of Mormon must be dishonest at heart, lack the proper intentions, and certainly does not have faith in Christ.11

In other words, the passage has not left room for any alternatives: i.e. The Book of Mormon is false, people can be sincerely misled into believing wrong doctrine, and/or the experience attributed to the Holy Spirit could come from another source such as Satan or one’s own wishful thinking, etc. By “stacking the deck,” the Mormon paints the potential convert into the proverbial corner: Believe what The Book of Mormon says is true, or you are not sincere and honest. Because the Mormons present this sincerely, many unsuspecting people have been led to consider the LDS claims. I believe average Mormons do not recognize the problem with the reasoning in this verse, but it is “cheating” and needs to be exposed.
The Christian can respond in several ways. First, one can point out the logical fallacies in this verse and suggest one put The Book of Mormon to the same test suggested in the Journal of Discourses 16:56.

Take up the Bible, and compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.12

The Christian will then need to show how The Book of Mormon does not “stand the test.”13
Also, one can ask the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) if he has also prayed about the other LDS scriptures such as The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price, not to mention the Bible. After all, if God wants us to find truth through such a method, it should apply to all works claiming to be “scripture.” Most likely, the Mormon has only applied the Moroni 10:4 test to The Book of Mormon. Perhaps this is because it does not really contain much current Mormon doctrine, so those who read it are not as likely to raise as many questions than if they read The Pearl of Great Price first (this work gives an alleged history of Joseph Smith’s*** initial conversion and finding the plates that would become The Book of Mormon). Regardless, since the claim in Moroni 10:4 rests upon a fallacy, the burden of proof is upon the Mormon to demonstrate its truth some other way. The Christian should be prepared to offer other reasons not to accept the Moroni 10:4 test, but if one is not, then one can simply ask the Mormon to provide a logical reason for accepting the verse’s claims which does not “stack the deck”—the burden of proof rightly falls on those claiming new revelation.

Conclusion

Ken Samples (senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe) reminds us we need to evaluate carefully “the various interpretations of reality offered in the marketplace of ideas. By applying methods of critical thinking to the various aspects of each particular worldview, the accuracy of that belief system can be analyzed to determine how well it actually fits reality.”14 He goes on to argue the first test is the logical consistency of the worldview.15 After joining a religious group, or while being raised within one, followers look at and relate to the world and themselves through the group’s doctrinal paradigm. By understanding the Mormon’s concept of the world, and his lack of using logic to interpret it, one can be better prepared to meet the LDS missionary’s challenges to the Christian faith. By showing the inconsistencies in the logic of Mormonism, one can demonstrate its teachings are not trustworthy. While Mormons are unlikely to be persuaded immediately, it is our job as Christians to give a defense (Jude 3) and to plant seeds.16

As with any missionary outreach, it is important for Christians not only to be informed but sensitive. We need to see Mormons as people searching for truth and deserving of the same compassion, love, and respect we would give anyone else. Too often, Christians feel they need to win the argument, but God calls us to love others and to be equipped to give solid answers for our faith (again, see Jude 3). If we do these faithfully, we are doing our part, and we can trust that He will do the rest! We often may not even see the effects of our refutations, but we should view any opportunity as a chance to plant seeds. We do not need to see the LDS missionary as an enemy soldier and cower in fear or try to shoot him down. Instead, by using sound logic and a ready defense, we can tear down the enemy’s strongholds in order to offer the truth: Jesus Christ, the hope of glory.

*“burning in the bosom” is found in various places in LDS writings, i.e.: “As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.” (Scott, Richard G., “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” CR, Ensign May 2007, p. 10). It is likely coined from LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants 9:8: “… if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right;” and the Bible at Luke 24:32: “And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

**Elmer Gantry is the fictional character from the 1960 film who was a con man selling religion to small-town America.

***Joseph Smith, Jr. is the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons, aka LDS) and author of The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrine and Covenants among other works.

David E. Isaacs holds an M.A. in Faith and Culture from Trinity Graduate School and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Simon Greenleaf University; he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate School. He is also an Assistant Professor of English at California Baptist University.

  1. The official figure is just under fourteen million members as of January, 2010. See 2011 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 2011), 4. However, these numbers do not typically reflect inactive members or those who have left the church
  2. Stark is co-director of the Institute for the Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Widely considered “one of the world’s most respected sociologists of religion,” he has long documented American religious movements; he is also a self-described agnostic. See the interview “A Double Take on Early Christianity: An Interview with Rodney Stark,” The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood Website, 22 July 2004. Available at http: //www.jknirp.com/stark.htm See also his website at http: //rodneystark.com>
  3. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Mormonism (New York: Columbia UP, 2005), 139
  4. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Mormonism (New York: Columbia UP, 2005), 141-146
  5. For this article, I use The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (Salt Lake City: LDS, 1981)
  6. Bob Witte, Where Does It Say That? (Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Truths, n.d.), 7-4
  7. Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), 100
  8. Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), 100
  9. James R. White, Letters to a Mormon Elder (Southbridge, MA: Crown Publications, 1990), 3
  10. Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), 100
  11. James R. White, Letters to a Mormon Elder (Southbridge, MA: Crown Publications, 1990), 159-160
  12. John D. Ferrer discusses other scholars and how to respond to them in “‘Knowing’. . . Mormon Style,” Midwest Christian Outreach Journal, 10.3 Summer 2004, pp. 8-11
  13. Some good primers would include the following: Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Major Problems of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Utah Light House Ministry, 1989); Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985); and Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, Gen. Eds., The New Mormon Challenge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002)
  14. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2007), 32
  15. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2007), 33
  16. Ferrer, cited above, offers some good strategies to engage the Latter-day Saint in such ways as to move past the tests of Moroni 10:4 and its corollary phenomenon called the “burning in the bosom.” White’s Letters to a Mormon Elder also offers a model of engagement.

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