“Things Not Seen,” New Era, Sept. 1986, 47
Many years ago the great pioneer leader Heber C. Kimball said: “To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of the work for yourselves. … If you do not you will not stand. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself” (in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, p. 450).
My evaluation process began late in high school or early in college, when I enrolled at the University of Utah. I am not in the least embarrassed that I reevaluated my testimony. I think that a testimony of the gospel is something that everyone at sometime in his life has to look at very closely. I didn’t want to believe the gospel just because my mother and father said it was true. I wanted to know for myself. I needed my own light. I didn’t set out to challenge Mormonism, but rather to discover its truth for myself. I am still continuing that quest for evidence, as my testimony grows stronger and stronger.
I am glad I have had the opportunity to study and learn and continue adding to my testimony. As I studied, an awareness grew that there are a lot fewer potential conflicts between LDS theology and science than between general Christianity and science. Most of the modern Christian faiths have the concept of a God who is large enough to fill the universe and yet small enough to dwell in a person’s heart. This idea is very difficult to square with science. It just doesn’t make sense. It is not even good logic—to have something, yet nothing.
Karl Marx said that religion is the “opiate of the masses,” meaning that it is more or less useful only to keep people in line so they can be controlled. A lot of people who certainly wouldn’t consider themselves to be communists and would probably be offended if they were so accused seem to go along with the idea that religion is just a very pleasant collection of fairy tales and legends and should not be taken seriously by people of learning. Of course, I do not agree with this. I have known a few people who have turned away from religion because they felt it was intellectually unacceptable to claim to have a testimony. I don’t think any Mormon need find the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints intellectually embarrassing.
Some people have suggested that science and religion are basically different, that they involve themselves in different questions (which is probably true), and that they are incompatible intellectually. I challenge the incompatibility part of that statement. Science and religion use different kinds of tools, but I think they are intellectually compatible, since a person who is well educated can also have a testimony. He need not be ashamed of his testimony, and he need not compromise his intellectual standards when he considers the gospel. As a youth striving to get my own testimony and also as an aspiring scientist, I was overjoyed to find how comfortably they fit together.
The first challenge that is thrown up to any church (and I am defending only ours, because I think ours is in a far superior position) is that science deals only with tangible quantities. We can always measure them on scales, or read them on ammeters, or count them electronically. The challenge is that religion is less reliable because it often deals with intangibles such as faith and revelation. But I don’t think this distinction is really accurate.
I wrote my dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley on pion-nucleon interactions. I have never seen a pion and I have never seen a nucleon, and yet I published an article on them, and I expect the scientific community to take that article seriously. I never touched anything I worked with. It wasn’t tangible; I couldn’t get hold of it.
In sophomore physics, we learn about inductance or magnetic field lines or capacitance. Has anyone seen or felt inductance or a magnetic field or capacitance? We can measure only their effects. So I suggest that scientists sometimes deal with the intangible and that they do this with no intellectual embarrassment.
We are told that science is superior to religion because in science, we can experiment to learn its data. Every sophomore has the scientific method explained to him until he can practically repeat it in his sleep. The essence of this explanation is to forget one’s prejudices and make decisions only in terms of the available data. That is the scientific method.
If that is science and experimentation, the gospel is susceptible to the scientific method. The Lord gives us several examples. Concerning tithing, he said: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith … if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). That is just an experiment. Many people have testified that they’ve tried the experiment and it works. That is the process of science. It is not an intellectually different kind of a thing.
Alma says, “Experiment upon my words” (Alma 32:27). He then goes on to compare the word to a seed that, if we will water and feed and nurture it with faith, will let us know whether the message is good.
The Savior gave us another example. He said that if we want to know whether the doctrine is true and comes from the Father, we must “do his will.” Then we “shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). This is all that science asks us to do—simply judge on the basis of the data.
We are also told that while science deals with experiment, religion deals with faith—and faith is supposed to be an intellectual process unknown to the scientist. This is obviously not true. Galileo (1564–1642), the great Italian astronomer and physicist who is often called the founder of experimental science, is a good example of a scientist who had faith. He invented telescopes that could see farther than had been seen before. His first important observations in astronomy concerned the moon. He discovered that the moon was not a smooth sphere shining by its own light; rather, its surface was marked with mountains and valleys, and its light was only reflected light. Galileo agreed with the theory of Copernicus that the earth moves around the sun, rather than the earth being the center of the universe with everything turning around it.
These observations did not agree with the teachings of Aristotle and of the Catholic Church, so Galileo was dragged before the Inquisition, forced to endure a long trial, and punished. But he never lost faith in his finding. I believe that his confident belief in the things he had discovered was the same mental process in religion we would call faith. He stood by his beliefs even when he was treated cruelly.
Science and religion do not employ different kinds of mental processes; rather, they share a great many things in common. And I suggest that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the gospel principles that it teaches are susceptible to scientific analysis. I believe that we can analyze the gospel, ask questions about it, and look into its challenges scientifically.
Before we do that, we have to look at the kinds of questions that we can ask, because if we don’t ask the right kinds of questions, we can’t get intelligent answers. There are basically three kinds of questions we can ask. The first kind is questions of fact. These are to be answered simply by looking at the real world. How high is Mount Everest? That’s a question of fact. We can measure it. The answer to such a question may not be readily available, but it is still a question of fact. A question of fact has nothing to do with how many people know the answer, or accept the answer, and it has nothing to do with public opinion or with so-called “authorities.” If it is a question of fact, it can be answered simply and solely by observing the real world.
Next, there are questions of logic. These do not deal with the real world, but rather with some system of logic that we have defined: therefore, these questions are simply to be checked against that logical system. If A is greater than B and B is greater than C, then it follows that A is greater than C. If we make the syllogism, “All Scotsmen have red beards, and John is a Scotsman,” then it follows that John has a red beard, regardless of what real Scotsmen and real people named John are like. These are questions of logic. They have answers, but they are to be judged only by the system of logic that we have defined.
Finally, there are questions of value. Almost every question of value has a word like good or right or better in it. We might ask a question such as, “Is Beethoven’s music better than Wagner’s?” That is a value judgment, and I suggest that it has no real answer. If we ask if it is louder or more contrapuntal, those are questions of fact, and we can find out the answers. But “Is it better?” is a question of value, and depends on the individual making the judgment. Generally such questions have no demonstrable answers because we have no standard by which we can determine the correct answer.
Now, if we ask the wrong kinds of questions, or if we don’t realize whether we are asking questions of fact or value or of logic, we might approach it this way: All persons who drive cars must take into account parking meters. Therefore, you, being an intelligent person, will carry at least a few coins in your pocket for parking meters. This may or may not be logical, but it has nothing to do with the facts. Nor is it a value question, such as, “Is it right for you to have some money in your pocket (because I don’t have any in mine)?” We simply ask you to empty your pockets and we count the coins; that is all there is to it. It is a simple question of fact, and we can’t arrive at a reasonable answer if we approach it any other way.
In the Church most of the basic questions we ask are questions of fact. Did Joseph Smith see God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove or did he not? This question boils down to just as much a historical fact as who won the Battle of Hastings, or how high is the highest mountain. These are questions of fact, and they do not depend on value judgment, emotion, or exercises in logic.
People have said, “It’s not logical for God the Father to have appeared to an obscure country lad in New York. If he had appeared to the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury, he would have converted the world by now.” That may be logical, but it has nothing to do with the facts.
Or they may say it is not right, for some reason or other, for God the Father to have appeared to Joseph Smith. That has nothing to do with the facts. Either God the Father did or he did not appear to Joseph Smith. Either there is a God, or God is dead. These are all questions of fact. Is there a God? Was Jesus Christ divine, or was he just a very nice person, a good teacher? Did the Father and the Son appear to Joseph Smith? Is the recipe for salvation as described by Joseph Smith the one the Lord set up, or did he set up a different one? These must be investigated as questions of fact and not questions of either logic or value.
I wrote my dissertation on pions without ever seeing any pions. I don’t know whether they are green or round or square or fuzzy, but when we turned on the cyclotron beam in the meson cave (a room made out of 12-foot-thick lead-impregnated concrete blocks), the beam struck a hydrogen target and splattered particles in all directions. Certain detectors that I had designed and had placed in appropriate spots in the cave registered these particles by sending out electrical impulses. All I actually observed was a series of two-volt jumps in the voltage on some coaxial cables. By fitting the pattern of these blips together, I published what I claim is a scientifically accurate explanation of certain pion-nucleon interactions.
This is scientifically sound, though it is all based on secondary evidence. No scientist has ever been inside a nuclear fireball voluntarily, yet one can tell you microsecond by microsecond what happens inside a nuclear fireball, or inside the sun, planets, or stars. No electronics technician has ever been inside of a vacuum tube, to my knowledge, and yet one can tell you for an entire semester what goes on inside there, based entirely on secondary evidence from detectors. In the same way we can find out what went on in the Sacred Grove through the secondary evidence of prayer, faith, study, and good works. I was not in the Sacred Grove in the spring of 1820, but I think I know what happened. I have faith that Joseph Smith told the truth.
The Book of Mormon is another statement of fact. Joseph Smith either forged the Book of Mormon and had to guess at thousands of details of an unknown culture in order to get every detail correct or he got it from an ancient source that was written by an eyewitness.
There is some argument over evolution, the Bible versus the biologists. Genesis, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham tell us that God created the world, that he had a purpose in doing it, and that man is very important in that purpose. These books are not intended as a handbook on how God created the worlds. They just say that he did it. Someday he will let us know how he did it. Science is theorizing on the how, but there need be no conflict when we remember what the Lord has told us and what he hasn’t.
I have sufficient faith that in due time the Lord will fulfill all the prophecies and predictions he has made and that these things will come about just as he has told us they will. Actually, if we have eyes to see, we have seen many of these fulfillments taking place in our day.
When I was a child, in my family we would put together a huge jigsaw puzzle each Christmas, one that would take a week to finish with thousands of small, look-alike pieces, I hated to do the sky. It was very difficult to put together an all-blue sky. But my mother liked that part of the puzzle and she usually chose to start working there. It would have been foolish to argue with her that her piece of blue sky really belonged down in my blue water, because neither of us could be sure about it at that point. But what we did know was that each piece fit in only one place, and that we could complete the picture only by placing each piece correctly. When the Lord allows the scientists to discover all their part, and he sees fit to reveal his part, it will be the same completed picture.
This is how I have come to look at the plan of the Lord. We need to stop worrying about each small piece and try to fit the whole picture together by keeping in mind the end result. The Lord knows where each piece goes and how it fits into his plan. Each of us should help by putting ourself, an intricate and important piece of that puzzle, in the proper place.