The Apostle Peter counseled that we ought to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh . . . a reason of the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). Taking this as my guide, I now share the reasons for hope and convictions that are in me. The Prophet Ezra Taft Benson once said, “Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 63). I firmly believe this is true not only in regards to religion and spiritual matters, but also about science, reason, or any other ideology or worldview we encounter. Although I am a disciple of Christ first and foremost, I am also a social scientist and as such have been formally trained to rely heavily on the scientific method. This method, although a powerful and effective tool, is in and of itself only a philosophy. As Slife and Williams put it, “[S]cience itself is based on theories and speculations. The method used to support or disprove other theories is itself a theory about how this supporting and disproving is done. Scientific method was not divinely given to scientists on stone tablets. There is no foreordained or self-evident truth about how science is to be conducted, or indeed, whether science should be conducted at all. Scientific method was formulated by philosophers, the preeminent dealers in ideas. These philosophers, not scientists, are responsible for the package of ideas now called scientific method” (B.D. Slife and R.N. Williams, 1995. What’s Behind the Research?, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks , CA, 4). With this in mind, I believe that science just like religion or any other belief system must be accepted on faith and, contrary to its own assumption, it is not the only way of knowing.
From its beginning, science was handicapped by limiting itself to accepting only five modalities of learning: we generally call them the five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, and seeing). Unfortunately, philosophers excluded a key modality when they invented the scientific method; that modality is called “the sixth sense.” Some call it intuition, while those in the religious community often call it “the Spirit of God,” ‘the Light of Christ,” or “the Holy Ghost.” This modality presents itself in the form of feelings or thoughts and generally cannot be seen, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted, yet it is as real and as valid as any of the five senses. In fact, my experiences in life have brought me to a firm conviction that the sixth sense or the Holy Ghost is preeminent to any other modality of learning.
God our Father has encouraged us to combine all of our modalities of learning to discover truth rather than simply using them separately or even abandoning one for the other. Alma instructs us to experiment upon the word of God (scientific method) and He will confirm its truth by the feelings (Holy Ghost) we will receive (Alma 32). Paul said, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21). More recently, the Lord declared to Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground” (D&C 8:2-3). After Oliver was unsuccessful in doing what the Lord asked of him, the Lord further clarified by saying, “Behold, you have not understood ; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you ; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:7-8). What God was saying is: “Oliver, here is how you can learn truth. You first go use your mind and other senses to ‘study it out’ (scientific method) and formulate your ideas and conclusions. Then ask Me if these conclusions are right. I will confirm them by the feelings I will send you through my messenger the Holy Ghost. This is how I did it with Moses, this is how it will work for you, and this how I will do it with anyone else who is a sincere seeker of truth.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell recognized the value of respecting both scientific and religious modalities in discovery when he said, “For a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship. It is actually another dimension of consecration. Hence one who seeks to be a disciple-scholar will take both scholarship and discipleship seriously; and, likewise, gospel covenants. For the disciple-scholar, the first and second great commandments frame and prioritize life. How else could one worship God with all of one’s heart, might, mind, and strength? (Luke 10:27)” (On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar: Lectures Presented at the Brigham Young University Honors Program Discipline and Discipleship Lecture Series. Edited by Henry B. Eyring, Bookcraft, 1995).
As one who takes both discipleship and scholarship seriously, I have come to a clear and bold conviction through much study, prayer, and the power of the Holy Ghost, independent of anyone else, that God, our Father lives. I testify that we are His children and that He loves us, that He watches over each of us and is very aware of our personal circumstances. I know that we lived before our birth and that we will continue to live after this earthly existence. I am keenly aware that the spirits of many of our family and friends who have died are close to us and that the “veil” between this life and the next is at times very thin.
I know that Jesus Christ is God’s Almighty Son and is our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. As His servant, I am honored to accept Him as The Master. He is the Chosen One—the Messiah. He made it possible for all of God’s children to be redeemed from the Fall of Adam and brought back into His presence to be judged, and there to remain if we have repented. As He was resurrected, so we will be resurrected and receive a glorified body like His.
I am thankful that God has given me the gift of the Holy Ghost. I count it as one of the greatest privileges of my life to have the companionship of one of the Godhead. He has spoken to me many times in a “still small voice” and has confirmed and directed me to know what to do or say when I have needed His guidance. His influence is real.
I testify that God and Jesus Christ visited the young boy, Joseph Smith, in a grove of trees near his home in 1820. I know that Joseph Smith was not a liar, but that he saw what he said he saw! I look forward to meeting the Prophet Joseph again to express my sincere love and affection for all of the things he did to restore the fullness of the Gospel once again back to earth.
I know the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God, that Joseph Smith received the Nephite plates and translated them through the spiritual gifts that God gave him. I have spent the past twenty-five years of my life studying and pondering the Book of Mormon almost on a daily basis. Each time I study the Book of Mormon I am lifted by the words and spirit of the book. I know that it was written by ancient prophets who sacrificed much to record their stories, testimonies, and revelations so that their posterity, along with latter-day Israel and the Gentiles, would learn of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and of God’s covenants made to Abraham and “the Fathers.” I testify that the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great of Great Price are the word of God.
I testify that God loves all of His children no matter their race, religion, or creed and that no church or organization holds a monopoly on God’s love. This being said, I boldly testify that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on earth today that holds all the priesthood keys necessary for the salvation and exaltation of God’s children. I know that God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, sent heavenly messengers to visit the Prophet Joseph Smith. These angels conferred knowledge and the fullness of the keys and authority of the priesthood upon him, and Joseph then in turn conveyed all of these keys to the twelve apostles before his death. I testify that these keys have continued on the earth and that President Thomas S. Monson holds the fullness of these priesthood keys to guide and direct Christ’s Church today.
Finally, I testify that God has established families as the basic unit of society and that by making eternal and sacred covenants in the Temples of God, families can be sealed for time and for all eternity. These things I solemnly witness in the name of Jesus Christ.
Richard J. McClendon is an Associate Director of Institutional Assessment and Analysis at Brigham Young University. Prior to this position he was the research director for the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance in the Marriott School of Management at BYU. He has taught in the Department of Sociology at BYU and has taught Book of Mormon classes in Religious Education at BYU for over fourteen years. Before coming to BYU, he spent several years teaching for the LDS Church Education System as a seminary and institute instructor. He received both his Ph.D. in sociology and his M.Ed. in educational leadership from Brigham Young University. He has worked as a research consultant and has conducted research in various areas of education, religion, family, and business. He recently co-authored the book, Shield of Faith: The Power of Religion in the Lives of LDS Youth and Young Adults, which provides seventeen years worth of empirical data that establishes a significant link between religious activity and various aspects of well-being among Latter-day Saint youth and young adults.
Posted May 2011