1 Nephi 15 – Thickheaded and Hardhearted

“”There is a Biblical and Talmudic admonition never to speak of God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But rather as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – thus to underline that each patriarch and matriarch came directly to God. Each found him in the same way and at the same sacrificial cost.”  ~Truman G. Madsen (Clark, 2005)

Obstacles to Creating Knowledge

In similar Abrahamic fashion, the incontrovertible results of Moroni’s invitation to all readers to disprove his claim to individual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost validates the reality that each person not only can know that his words are true, that Jesus is the Christ, but that God is a sentient being that responds to prayer. You need not rely on a bishop, apostle, preacher, imam, or rabbi – you can know for yourself. He claims one can also know “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). Before we get to that, however, recognize that Laman and Lemuel incessantly box their ears at “this hard doctrine” (Maxwell, 2000) and never pay the sacrificial cost of placing one’s will on the metaphorical altar in daily prayer and obedience to ancient and modern commandments and covenants. The continual surrender and alignment of one’s own will, in comparison to relinquishing money or possessions is, arguably, the only kind of true sacrifice one can make, without which you are left to your own rational and empirical devices.

After his visions, Nephi asks his brothers if they’d asked God themselves about the massive and sweeping prophecies he’d seen for himself and subsequently relayed to them (contained in the preceding 4 chapters). To which they reply “We have not: for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9). They’ve thrown their hands up at praying long ago and don’t consider their unwillingness to communicate in prayer, or that they have hard hearts and at least feel for the idyllic past and the comforts of home and society in Jerusalem. An essential factor is absent: a sincere desire to know for themselves. Recall that Spirit is truth, and “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). I want to really unpack that statement, because it’s loaded. But, simply put, anything that contributes to knowledge of the past, present and future is truth (and too much of one is harmful).

They thought and hoped only for the past, like the future Pharisees and Sadducees who did not believe God revealed truth through prophets in their day. And then, boom, the Son of God appears, teaching “as one that had authority” (Mark 1:22). Just like scientific inquiry, how do we get at that truth: questions and tests. The Pharisees failed to ask the right questions of Christ, seeing his revelations as only the political challenges to their sociopolitical status and power that they without doubt were grasping to tenaciously. As one LDS author recently put it, “What makes the LDS Church so different? Questions have been restored to the earth.” (Christensen, 2013). Just as scientific inquiry uncovers or discovers natural or quantum laws, so too do LDS questions reveal eternal laws. So let’s start with the first question(s): Does God exist and is the Book of Mormon true scripture of Christ?

Getting that knowledge of God according to Moroni’s conditions (Moroni 10:3-7) 1)

Recall what God has done for you and humanity (be the opposite of Laman and Lemuel and consider all the goodness in your life as a mass of hard evidence – Moroni 10:6) 2) Literally ask God, in the name of Christ, if the Book of Mormon “is not true” 3) Ask sincerely, or with “real intent” to value the answer 4) Having faith in Christ 5) Don’t deny the power of God – so doubt your doubts If that burning or peaceful feeling occurs, don’t deny it  though you may want to for the implications are just as real – that God lives and communicates in ways we just can’t explain as of yet. Science exists because we can’t explain observable phenomena, and want to, and when you read and pray to God just as he describes, the phenomena is bound to happen. But, what if it doesn’t work (ie. I don’t feel the Spirit)? You probably haven’t satisfied any of the above conditions…It’s mind bending, I know, moreso than the general or special theories of relativity even.

Where the Scientific Method Fails

For instance, “If the hypothesis-testing process fails to eliminate most of the personal and cultural biases of the community of investigators, false hypotheses can survive the testing process and then be accepted as correct descriptions of the way the world works” (Baumgardner, 2008). Does Moroni’s test eliminate biases, or subjectivity, and achieve objectivity? Yes. In other words, you’re not going to make the answer appear out of thin air just because you simply want it to (delusional). Maybe I can explain.

For example, while I served my 2 year LDS mission in Canada ‘(05-’07) I wanted to know what level of truth and truths was in each Church or religion. So, as we attended Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, and Pentecostal services with our investigator-friends and subsequently I felt the Spirit. Usually once a preacher or minister or priest expressed deep devotion and sincere confession of faith in testifying that they knew Christ lived and died for their sins because they had felt the Spirit testify to them too. The truth was they believed in Christ and the Spirit bore witness to my spirit that it was so, whether on the pulpit or the street. Someone once said that we in the Church have no  corner on spirituality. Eternal principles found in Hindi and Buddhist practices and worship reveal to me the Spirit works strongly in individuals not of my faith.

While I had always understood that concept, I had no stark, direct or experiential proof or evidence of that until then. I was overjoyed, shocked and thankful that Heavenly Father had validated not only truth but the process itself, the faith-based method of revelation. So then, since we are question askers and truth seekers wherever it is to be found, my mind and heart had received light and truth (intelligence) through some obedience on my part and immense grace of the Spirit on the other (D&C 93:36-39). But as I took in the rock band on stage or observed the more incoherent and convulsive speaking in tongues in the pew behind me, the Spirit left…and so did we.

Certain practices are not conducive to the Spirit, so I learned, and hence the objectivity. My mental awareness perked up involuntarily when the Spirit left those circumstances. However, I believe I felt the Spirit present during a Passover dinner at a friend’s house  while waiting for Elijah to be present at the meal and at synagogue as parts of the Torah were read. I felt the Spirit in a Mosque In Canada while observing the immense submission and prostration characteristic to Muslims during one of the 5 calls to prayer as they removed their shoes before entering the Mosque proper, as we do when worshipping in LDS temples. While I haven’t been to a separate house of worship in a year or so, I can validate I’ve felt the Spirit during conversations with coworkers and neighbors, and while listening to some bits of the news on NPR or am590, or in scientific journals, or on mountain hikes because I can differentiate and synthesize logic and faith. In essence, we don’t discard anything that is true, unless it’s superceded by further light and knowledge; and its corollary is also true from experience: we aren’t obligated to believe what’s not true.

So, have some faith and try these steps out! Even seek to disprove them like all good science experiments do by seeking to feel the Spirit in all sorts of environments (in different churches, physical locations, times of day, your emotional states etc.). Note when it works and when it doesn’t. This faith formula is in the Bible (James 1:5, Galatians 5:22 and more) but crystal clear in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10 and Alma 32, entire book of 1 Nephi and Enos). Start obeying what Latter-day Saints believe are modern commandments and you’ll find they increase that feeling from the prayer (or that you perhaps feel as you read this…). Be like Nephi and Abraham – satisfy or reproduce the conditions, let the answers (data results) flow. This method is what everyone wants to believe but can’t let themselves – Mormon or not, let yourself test it a little more this week.

-SK

References

Baumgardner, J. (2008). Exploring the limitations of the scientific method. Acts & Facts. 37 (3): 4

Christensen, C. (2013). The power of everyday missionaries. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Maxwell, N. (Oct, 2000). Insights from my life. Ensign.

1 Nephi 14…Moroni’s Challenge, the Scientific Method, and Knowledge

Good evening, I hope everyone’s enjoying the holiday season!

Christmas has ended (at least the commercial aspect of it, unless you’re returning gifts I suppose) and the New Year has come and gone. With it comes the ubiquitous hope of well-intended ‘resolutions’ that, let’s admit, too often end in fizzled fashion like soda gone flat. Or so predictably like Cubs fans saying – “maybe next year”. Maybe New Year’s hasn’t held much weight for me because, here’s the thing, I renew my most significant Christian moral, ethical, and worldview resolutions every Sunday in Sacrament. So, 52x a year. While I, or any Latter-day Saint, officially renew my commitments to my baptismal (1993), priesthood (1997) and temple (2004) covenants each Sunday, this sacred practice by no means precludes a/any New Year’s resolutions being made, like working out daily to P90x…yikes 😦

So heck, I’ll start, as for this blog, I’ll renew my goal of posting once a week, however with a limit of 800 words per post. Neither you or I with our busy lives has the time to read or write anything longer – so here’s a jump start on the New Year! Good luck with your own resolutions 🙂

The Question

Are science and religion wholly incompatible bodies of knowledge, views and experience?

I would say no, they are complementary. And the tools of reason and logic in science do not necessarily, or by definition, preclude the divinely communicated truths of the Church as any individual comes to know through experimentation of one’s own. LDS Apostle Elder Henry B. Eyring’s father, Henry Eyring, was a renowned and well-respected scientist in physical chemistry who offered what I think is one of the best responses ever to this question. When Henry Eyring wanted to attend the University of Arizona in 1919, his father Ed (Elder Eyring’s grandpa) told him while bailing hay: “…in this Church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true. You go over to the [U of A] and learn everything you can, and whatever is true is part of the gospel” (Eyring, 22). Apparently, this experience has been distilled into the simple phrase “The Church doesn’t require you to believe anything that isn’t true” (23).

Theories, hypotheses, models and constructs are all pieces to methodologies that form various modes of inquiry: such as the scientific method as employed through empiricists like Berkeley, Locke, and Hume who interpret reality according to proof and physical evidence; or the rationalism of thought experiments from the likes of Descartes, Leibniz, or Spinoza who argued that knowledge is gained independent of sensory experience, like thought experiments. If  you’ve gone to high school, like me, you’ve employed the steps of the scientific method (but you might have forgotten some of them) in physics, biology or chemistry classes: ask a question, do back ground research, create a prediction or hypothesis, test it or prove it by experimenting and creating a body of data, analyzing that, then concluding and listing any implications to whatever field you were studying in.

Found at the end of the Book of Mormon, a similarly rational and somewhat scientific spiritual mode of divine inquiry referred to by current missionaries and members alike as Moroni’s Challenge, is arguably a faith-based scientific method unto itself. The wording of the few verses appears to some to be a rather audacious attempt to resolve the question of how does God answer mankind’s earnest, even desperate pleadings for comforting evidence that God can and does listen to each person who prays and that there is a way to know. As true as it is bold, there are logical steps or conditions, like a beaker or petri dish in science, that allow the independent answer to form, to be realized. Really those steps secure the awareness of the Spirit of God to your own spirit (which is logical when you accept the premise that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter” because “all spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure” (D&C 131:7)). So, setting the conditions over a bunsen burner in 10th grade chemistry class to validate the temperature at which, let’s say, Magnesium combusts is not so different because spirit is matter too. That implies it can be quantified – but I don’t have much to comment on that just yet.

So, how to recognize the Spirit? Just consult James, John or Paul (see James 1:5, John 7:17, Galatians 5:22-23, then  Alma 32:28). Alma refers to this mode or method of inquiry as an experiment – and just as knowledge is constructed by rigorous scientific experiment and anecdotal experience, so too is the term ‘knowledge’ in the LDS worldview based upon testable or reproducible experience with the Holy Spirit of God.

Moreover, this faith-based method is at the same time both critical of and adherent to whatever level of current knowledge of God the enquirer possesses, or in this case, whatever concept of God one possesses (D&C 130: 18-20). To do so, one merely has to be a truth seeker, wherever that truth exists, as Ed Eyring stated to his son Henry. I know a Heavenly Father exists because of this method, the Book of Mormon is true, the KJV Bible is true, Christ lives, I can be forgiven of sin and disobedient screwups. Prophets walk and serve today. You can find out too.

I’m at 800 words (including the New Year’s intro) – so next week I’ll try to review the main steps and conditions necessary to feeling what we believe and know to be the Spirit of God. So, like the growing body of knowledge in every scientific discipline, like my field of applied linguistics over the past 30-40 years through tests and predictions, build your personal experimental knowledge of God and Jesus Christ by taking Moroni’s Challenge (Moroni 10:3-5) like I did when I was 16.

Because the “glory of god is intelligence…or light and truth” (D&C 93:36) this perhaps explains Nephi’s vision in ch. 14 that the scattered and covenant latter-day saints of the church of the lamb were “armed with righteousness and the power of God in great glory” (v.14). Or otherwise read as – The power of God in great intelligence, or in great light and truth. Irrefutable, testable results. Each saint has experiential, independently verified evidence and knowledge of the Spirit that brings a feeling and humble power that nothing else on earth can. It’s as simple to verify as gravity when observing the constant rate of acceleration by dropping a pin and a golf ball (thanks Newton!). The Spirit is pretty constant to me as often as I obey…so take the challenge, discover it for yourself.

Good searching!

-SK

Eyring, Henry J. (2008). Mormon Scientist: The Life of Henry Eyring. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.