Sunday, October 6, 2013

A scientific approach to Moroni's promise

The Book of Mormon contains a famous promise in Moroni 10:4 that if someone prays to know if the Book of Mormon is true, then God will verify that the Book of Mormon is true through the Holy Ghost. Most Mormons apply this experiment personally by praying to God themselves, and consider the LDS church to be true if they feel that the Book of Mormon is true. However, I think that method of testing the promise is subject to experimenter's bias (if the person is being taught by their parents or the missionaries), the placebo effect, and that person's innate suggestibility. I think Moroni's promise could be tested in a double-blind fashion to control for those biases.

The basic idea is that a few packets could be made from Book of Mormon passages and alternative passages, and then ask study participants to pray about each of them, and report which of the packets they feel is true. Neither the participants nor the experimenters will know which packet contains the real Book of Mormon passages.

Alternative texts would have to meet a few desired attributes:
  • The LDS church must consider the alternative text false
  • The text must be broadly compatible with Mormon doctrine
  • The text could be written in a similar style as Book of Mormon or D&C passages
  • The text should be something that many people really believe (or believed) to be true
Fortunately there are several texts that could be used:
  • The Sealed Portion, by Christopher Nemelka
  • The James Strang revelations (comparable to D&C revelations)
  • Sidney Rigdon revelations (also comparable to D&C revelations)
  • The Quran
Selections could either be constrained to be only unemotional passages, or alternatively of similar emotional content, to control for the emotional effects of passages from the Book of Mormon. Perhaps passages could be ones that describe events rather than principles, to control for the possibility of the Holy Ghost merely confirming the principles taught by the passage.

The study would first have to locate many volunteers meeting the Book of Mormon requirements, and the study's requirements:
  • Claim to have sincere desires for truth
  • Claim to have faith in Christ
  • Looking for a new religion, and interested in Mormonism
  • Not very knowledgeable with Mormon doctrine or the Book of Mormon
I think finding people who had contacted the missionaries or asked to meet with the missionaries would be an ideal pool for finding volunteers for the study.

Interpretation of results

If the Book of Mormon's promise is true, then 100% of the study participants who have sincere desires for truth and have faith in Christ should identify it as true. To account for dishonest participants, we should allow a little leeway. I would expect the Book of Mormon to be selected by at least 90% of participants if it is true, and anything less than that I would interpret as indicating falsehood.

So if you are LDS, would you expect the Book of Mormon to be identified by 90% of participants? If you are LDS but immediately find yourself making up reasons why the Book of Mormon would not be identified by 90% of participants, then I suggest that you may not truly believe in Moroni's promise.

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