On Learning and Faith

green-leaves-water-droplets-844202-wallpaperShortly after returning from two years of missionary service, I heard a renowned scientist—one that I had admired for years—denounce religion as an exercise in human hubris. He then suggested that the sciences save us from our ego, replacing it with objective fact. By the end of his short discussion, he had left me feeling that the faith that had kept me going for years was not only a mark of stupidity but also one of arrogance. How could I profess something to be true, I started to wonder, without it being based in empirical fact?

I’m sure that my experience isn’t a unique one. Whether by an eminent scientist who responds only to facts, by a philosophy professor who recognizes Christianity only as an outdated approach to life’s questions, or by an artist who finds critical acclaim by mocking or marginalizing the sacred, many of us have had our faith disrupted by schools of thought that seem incompatible with a life of belief. Often, these challenges sound like those of Korihor who, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, said: “[Y]e cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ. Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so” (Alma 30:15-16). In other words, no tangible evidence of God means no rational basis for faith.

However, much later in the Book of Mormon, we read a sort of rebuttal to Korihor’s secular complaints: “[D]ispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). In that same spirit, I ultimately decided to give my shaky faith another chance—even though that scientist’s claims had disturbed my ability to believe. I set aside time each day in order to pore over the word of God, I prayed multiple times a day, and I continued to attend and participate in church services and activities, all in search of an eventual confirmation of my faith.

Even now, my continuing trial of faith hasn’t yielded a physical proof of the things that I believe. If it had, there would be a picture of it here. However, I have learned that faith in a benevolent God is essential to my happiness. When I thought about life guided only by the truths that secular learning could give me, I found myself profoundly disheartened. However, holding to faith—even when it felt silly—has quietly and gradually filled me with a light that has kept that discouraging darkness at bay.

I’ve further learned that God isn’t out to change our minds with mass publications in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals; rather, He reaches out in astonishingly personal ways in order to change our hearts and heal our souls. Because of that, I can’t publish charts and tables in order to demonstrate the validity of my faith—but I can speak from real, lived experience in saying that I have seen the hand of God at work in my life and in the lives of others. In other words, faith comes from personal experience—not experimental data.

In the end, I’ve come to recognize that my beliefs and my education are independent and complementary. My education has taught me a great deal about things that the scriptures never address, things that are factual, true, and useful. But those things are rooted in the observation of physical phenomena, so they are necessarily limited in their scope. While I turn to secular learning for information or ideas, I turn to my faith for inspiration and ideals—things my education cannot give me. Thus, both are worthwhile—and both are essential. So to those who find their faith wobbling in the face of some new finding or some new philosophy, I say hold on. The substance of faith isn’t in the quantity of proofs that it produces but in the quality of life that it provides. I know that faith is good; its benefits, real. I know, from my own experience, that there is room for faith in every life and that joy inevitably comes to those who courageously choose to believe.