I love truth and I love life. These few words encompass the gratitude I feel for what I know and what I have. They reflect years of experimenting upon the eternal principles of faith and hope in the redeeming power of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Although it is universal, I feel His atonement very close to home. The excitement of being alive is what gets me up every morning and the light of truth from the Lord is the standard I use to measure each day. Knowing that my Father in Heaven lives and that He cares about me is a reassuring thought that echoes a critical call to personal duty: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions, and to keep [myself] unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Religion to me is an expression of love, service, and mutual understanding. Many great men throughout the centuries, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or dogma have promoted a message of peace and acceptance with a common goal to inspire humankind to live up to their divine potential. I humbly embrace this same view with a personal conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church) has the keys, ordinances, principles, doctrines, and teachings to help me reach that same potential. More importantly, I recognize in the LDS Church the authority to preach the true Savior, Redeemer of all humankind.
I started attending the LDS Church when I was only six years old. The missionaries miraculously found their way to our small apartment in northern Italy and were able to teach my parents about the message of the restored gospel. In the months that followed, both of my parents were baptized and began attending the small branch of Monza, near Milan. I still remember vividly the meetings, with a few faithful members gathered in a tiny moldy basement a considerable distance from our home. The contrast between what claimed to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30) and the beautiful buildings of the Catholic Church that were found almost at every corner called for some early reflections on the meaning of knowing that something could be true beyond the perception of the physical senses. Additionally, although attending the LDS Church, my parents enlisted me in a private elementary school run by a group of Catholic nuns. Looking back, I gladly welcome their decision as it gave me another opportunity to be reminded on a daily basis of the reality of being in the world, but not of the world. It was not an issue of self-righteousness, but an additional invitation to reflect on the concept of religious diversity at a very young age. I believe that these early experiences planted a seed in my heart that contributed to the development of a personal testimony that continued through the years. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all that the Primary, Young Men, and seminary programs had to offer, while at the same time living most of my daily life in the “mission field.” Although being different from my peers was not my first choice, the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ provided that iron rod that helped me through my teen years all the way to the day I decided to serve a full-time mission. As a young man, I soon realized that my attitude, involvement, and work played a fundamental role in the way I felt about my membership. It was not a matter of what the church could offer me, but instead of what I could do to contribute to the Kingdom. The LDS Church’s greatest gift to me has been to show me the meaning of being a true Christian. It became self-evident that keeping the commandments and serving others brought peace and joy, while the opposite often left me confused and worried.
Gradually, through the years, the truths of the restored Gospel as found in the LDS scriptural canon (particularly the Book of Mormon), the account of the First Vision, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and the reality of a living prophet guiding Christ’s church in our days brought great comfort to my soul. These truths simply make more sense to me than they do not. As an adult, and being involved in the scientific and academic community, I have been often asked by many of my associates how I could hold strong to my beliefs when the scientific evidence seemed to clearly demonstrate the opposite. That seed of faith and spiritual knowledge that was planted in my heart when I was a young boy has eventually fully grown into a large tree, a safe haven that has never let me down. Science came at a later stage of my life and has contributed a new and exciting dimension where I can explore the mysteries of life using alternative methods. My spiritual and academic approach to life contributed to a greater appreciation for God’s creations, the meaning of life, and the quest for intelligence. Personal testimony comes from living a righteous life; scholarship comes from testing hypotheses through the scientific method. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to compare my findings and re-evaluate truths based on both methods. As many have said before, I expect my faith to tell me the purpose of life and science to help understand how it came to be. I have never felt that one could be a threat to the other.
Milestones of my life are probably more important to me and my personal testimony than they are to those reading my words. I know my life was a miracle and I don’t expect others to view it the same way. The following are just a list of events that greatly contributed to my spiritual and secular formation, each one characterized by significant individuals who greatly influenced my life and provided me with excellent opportunities.
The decision to serve a full-time mission was not an easy one. I cannot remember anyone going on a mission from my Italian home branch. Most of the leaders were converts to the LDS church and I did not feel much pressure about making such a decision. I had good employment, my own apartment, and a girl I deeply loved. Life seemed pretty good for a twenty-year-old. However, I felt emptiness. As I knelt in prayer in those days, I knew I needed to do something more. When I was almost twenty-two years old, I left everything I had to serve the Lord. I was called to the California Sacramento Mission, perhaps the most distant place on earth from my hometown. It took me a while to adjust to the language and culture, but eventually my love for the people I was working with in the mission field produced the change of heart I was so much in need of. I was amazed by the fact that at times we might need something so badly but are too busy or too distracted to know what it could be. Serving others was a gift to me, not the other way around. I grew in love for God’s children and for His church in a way that I never thought was possible. Moreover, I was exposed to the fatherly and loving influence of my mission president, Jerry Roundy, whose dedicated teaching efforts promoted in me excitement in studying the written word of God, as well as discovering an intense desire to pursue a higher education after my mission. It was because of him and the help of a few other wonderful people I met in the California Sacramento Mission that I eventually ended up at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I don’t think things happen by chance. I strongly believe that good desires and hard work are often rewarded with opportunities. I consider myself a regular person, having been blessed with both an insatiable curiosity and the possibility to satisfy it through the process of learning. My testimony of the Savior and the restored Gospel grew exponentially both as a full-time missionary and during my college years.
At BYU I worked toward and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Health Sciences. I was still able to manage completion of both degrees in less than five years, notwithstanding such “distractions” as numerous religion courses taken, a semester studying Old and New Testament at the BYU Jerusalem Center, and the Seminary Teaching training program. My experience with the scriptures during those years was comparable to that of a black and white photo that was gradually filled with lively colors and real eternal perspective. I already knew that without good deeds our faith in the Savior is dead (James 2:17), but those were the years where the words in the standard works were coming to life as never before, completed with numerous service opportunities available through BYU. The spiritual and social formation during the college years played a pivotal role in my life, more so than the expectations I had from seeking a career with the academic degrees I was pursuing.
During my graduate time, I began working for Dr. Scott R. Woodward, a professor of Molecular Biology with a thing for dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Originally, I simply asked him if I could volunteer my time in his lab, but he had something else for me to do: collecting 100,000 human DNA samples worldwide with corresponding genealogical records! That was the beginning of my involvement in the field of molecular science, which continued with a doctorate degree in human genetics with Professor Antonio Torroni at the University of Pavia in Italy. Dr. Woodward and Professor Torroni provided me with an important window on the world measured by the scientific method. This was a great change for me, particularly with all the orthodox and quite literal interpretation of the scriptures I received as a BYU student. However, rather than create confusion, I gladly took the challenge of finding personal ways to reconcile theological and scientific truths. As Moses once recorded, I felt that the man in me was truly nothing without divine intervention (Moses 1: 10). I humbly realized that the phrase “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) perhaps meant the infinite gap between God’s omniscience and humankind minuscule and very limited understanding of . . . pretty much everything. There is so much yet to discover and there are so many erroneous conclusions to be drawn. And yet, in His great wisdom, our Father allows us to learn new things based on our experiments and on our errors, resulting in greater light and truth to benefit all His children. Science and religion are quite fascinating. They are like brothers who wrestle with each other all the time, but at the end they cannot be without each other. They are two complementary chests filled with treasures of infinite knowledge. Most importantly, they require a significant degree of responsibility, as God allows men and women to partake regularly of the absolute truths He has already mastered with the hope that we do some good with it.
I don’t know what I ever did to live such a blessed life, including the gift of so many years of formal education. I promised myself I would never take for granted the spiritual and secular endowment I was given and that I would do whatever I can to demonstrate my gratitude through meaningful service and hard work. When asked for an opinion based on my personal research work about topics such as the biblical account of the creation, Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc. I strive with all my heart to provide an objective and yet edifying answer that can help others know that a reconciliation between scientific and spiritual evidence is indeed possible. Although I don’t consider addressing such topics part of my main research focus, I made the decision long ago to share my personal perspective with those who are honestly seeking to understand. I don’t pretend to have any exact answer, but I find fascinating that Heavenly Father would allow for so many gray areas for His children to think through as we wait for the day when all truths concerning this earth will eventually be revealed (Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34).
Ugo A. Perego, a native of Milan, Italy, received a BSc and an MSc in Health Sciences at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) and a PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Pavia (Pavia, Italy). His dissertation focused on the origin of Native Americans through the analysis of complete mitochondrial DNA genomes. He is currently a Senior Researcher and the Director of Operations for the non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ugo’s research focus can be divided into three main areas: population genetics, mainly through the employment of uniparental markers to study the expansion times and migration routes followed by our early ancestors; genetic genealogy, combining traditional pedigree data with information encoded in our DNA for the purpose of reconstructing family histories and identifying lost relationships; science and religion, with a particular emphasis on using molecular data to answer questions from LDS history, ethics, the concept of race, evolution versus creation, DNA and the Book of Mormon, and the like. Ugo has given nearly 150 lectures worldwide, as well as authored and co-authored numerous publications on the above-mentioned topics. Ugo, his wife, and their four children reside in the Salt Lake City area.
Posted April 2010