Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 7

The rest of the story...

A long time ago when I first talked to some Mormon missionaries and went through their presentation, I did pray about it, asking God whether it was true. I prayed that prayer because at the time I thought it was at least possible that it could be true, and I figured it couldn't hurt to pray about it. But I didn't get any warm fuzzy, and I had no inclination whatsoever to think that it was true. In fact, I felt just the opposite. What does a Mormon say in response to that? Was it because I was insincere? Or was it because I was wicked? If a feeling of acceptance confirms that it is true, why doesn't a feeling of rejection confirm that it is false?

Well, I had not read the BOM at that time except for the few passages the missionaries recommended for me, but now I have. And having read it, I'm even more convinced than I was before that it is not an ancient document and that it is definitely not the word of God. I don't think it's possible for me to pray that prayer with any sincerity. It would be like you praying to ask God whether it's okay for you to commit murder as if you didn't already know [I'm indebted to James R. White from Alpha and Omega Ministries for this point]. It would be dishonest for you to pray such a prayer to God, and it would be dishonest of me to pray to God to ask him whether the BOM is true when I think God has already revealed that to me.

Nevertheless, I do think it's at least possible--remote as that possibility may be--that the Book of Mormon is true. But just because something is possible doesn't mean it's reasonable to believe. I also think it's possible that we're plugged into the Matrix and that our perception of the external world is just generated by a computer plugged into our brains. The mere possibility doesn't create any serious doubt in my mind, though. I'm pretty confident, just based on the use of the cognitive faculties and resources God has already given me that the external world exists, that it is pretty much the way it appears to be, and that the Book of Mormon is not the word of God.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm just as sure that the BOM is false as I am that the external world exists. I'm much more confident that the external world exists than that the BOM is false. I'm just making the point that mere possibility is not enough to entertain serious doubt or belief about something. And unless I had serious doubt or belief, I don't think I could go to God with a sincere question. God would know I was lying if I ever went to prayer asking him whether the external world exists or is just an illusion.

Well, this is longer than I meant to write. Sorry about that. I have one question for you, though. If, hypothetically, Joseph Smith is not a true prophet, and the Book of Mormon is not true, how could a person know it? It seems like the only test Mormons employ is prayer and a subjective experience. But anybody who prays that prayer and does not get a confirmation that it's true, you can say that they are insincere or wicked. How, then, could anybody tell that it is not true if it's not true?

Do you think it's possible for somebody to get a strong feeling, a conviction, a burning in the bosom, etc. about something if that thing is untrue?

It seems to me that this test in the BOM only works one way. It can verify something, but it can't falsify something. It's interesting. The Bible gives us several methods of falsifying a prophet, but not many to verify a prophet. But the BOM gives one test to verify a prophet, but nothing to falsify a prophet.
...and that's the end of my email to George. Next, I will post some of his response.

Part 8


At 10/17/2008 5:14 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Interesting point you make: how could we pray "sincerely" if we were not first inclined to think that it might be true? If we've got intellectual problems with Mormonism, then we have little hope of a sincere prayer that may lead to the subjective witness of its truth.


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