An important truth restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith is that intelligence gained in mortality is eternal. (See D&C 130:18.) The Lord also gave him several revelations about the importance of study and learning. (See D&C 88:118–19; D&C 109:14–15.)
When called to the Quorum of the Seventy, I received a document containing this statement by President Ezra Taft Benson: “The gospel can be viewed from two perspectives. In the broadest sense, the gospel embraces all truth, all light, all revealed knowledge to mankind. In a more restrictive sense, the gospel means the doctrine of the Fall, the consequences of the fall of man that brought into the world physical and spiritual death, the atonement of Jesus Christ which brings to pass immortality and eternal life, and the ordinances of salvation.”
But how do we find truth? As we seek to understand the gospel and its related truths more fully, we would do well to keep in mind the parameters governing the two methods of discovering truth—the scientific method and the revelation method. Both processes can be of great benefit to us in our efforts to “seek … diligently and teach one another words of wisdom.” (D&C 88:118.)
The goal of the scientific method is to determine by objective, reproducible measurements what happens in a given system and how it happens. To ensure validity, the same results must be obtained each time the same set of conditions prevail. Subjective data (like love for family or impressions from the Holy Ghost) are not discounted as being nonexistent, untrue, or unimportant; they simply lie outside the framework of scientific methodology.
The revelation method of learning truth is subjective. Depending on senses additional to those we use to measure data quantitatively, this method utilizes our feelings, often to answer why—a question beyond the purview of the scientific method. Reproducing at will the receipt of revealed information is not under the investigator’s control.
Gospel truths, including things we need to know and do to obtain eternal life, were given to mankind by revelation. The Lord chose to reveal these basic truths to prophets, who recorded them for our use as scripture. He wisely chose to ensure through direct communication that these truths were clear and correct, and has so testified.
The Lord wisely left a vast set of truths for us to discover via experience and scientific experimentation. So it is necessary for us to develop our minds, recognizing the principle of eternal progress, to achieve our celestial potential. Thus, a large body of useful truths external to strict gospel truth has been accumulated over the ages to bless and improve our lives.
There has been much attention in the media about the teaching of the theory of evolution. While serving as dean of the University of Utah’s College of Mines and Mineral Industries, I had interesting discussions with fellow faculty members in the departments of geology, geography, and geophysics about the theory of evolution and the misunderstanding many people have about the scientific method.
In the process of discovering scientific truths, it is essential to develop theories that relate experimental observations to each other and suggest additional tests to determine the validity of those theories or to modify them, which is generally the case.
Competent scientists recognize that theories are not laws but serve the function of testing ideas and pursuing new relationships. Elder John A. Widtsoe observed: “Facts never change, but the inferences from them are changeable. … The careful man does not become so enamored of an hypothesis or a theory that he cannot distinguish it from a fact. … Theories of science can no more overthrow the facts of religion than the facts of science. … One cannot build a faith upon the theory of evolution, for this theory is of no higher order than any other inference, and is therefore in a state of constant change.” (In Search of Truth: Comments on the Gospel and Modern Thought, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1930, pp. 41, 46, 110.)
The theory of evolution as presently taught posits that higher forms of life arose gradually from lower stages of living matter. Inheritable genetic changes in offspring are assumed to be spontaneous rather than the result of arranged or directed forces external to the system.
This theory conflicts with a basic law of chemistry, the second law of thermodynamics, which states in part that it is not possible for a spontaneous process to produce a system of higher order than the system possessed at the beginning of the change.
An example of a spontaneous process is a boulder that dislodges from a mountaintop and rolls down the mountain. The only way to get the boulder back up the mountain (thereby increasing its height, or the order of the system) is for energy outside the system to be expended—such as someone directing the process by seeing that the rock is carried up the mountain.
One of the current explanations of the improvement in plant and animal species over time is that cosmic radiation caused genetic changes resulting in a higher order of offspring survivability than the parent possessed.
A number of years ago, a renowned biologist and geneticist told of an experiment he had directed in which grasshoppers in their various stages of growth had been subjected to radiation levels greater than that insect family had received during its existence. He said the experiment caused many genetic changes, including the loss of a foreleg, an antenna, or some other inheritable change. However, not one of those changes gave the offspring a greater viability or survivability than that of the parent.
Many Latter-day Saints recognize that the processes involved in evolution are valid. We see improved strains and varieties of plants and animals developed through judicious selection of their parents. But we would have to agree with those who understand the limitation defined in the second law of thermodynamics limitation that such changes can only occur if guided or if outside energy is available to improve the system.
We are in the very fortunate position of understanding that the Lord is in charge of the universe and that positive genetic changes can in fact occur under his direction. On the other hand, spontaneous improvements of the type hypothesized by devotees of current evolutionary theory remain an unsupported supposition.
We are also blessed with the knowledge that Adam and Eve, our first parents, were not subject to death until they partook of the forbidden fruit. They and all of their descendants are spirit children of God, created in his image, and are thus different from all other forms of life on earth. As literal children of God, we possess the inherent capability of becoming as he is.
The acquisition of godly attributes, however, is not automatic. It requires our sincere desire, diligent study, persistent effort, and steady patience to develop our celestial potential. Although we may not attain perfection in our mortal lives, we can move toward it and enjoy the Lord’s choicest blessings as we continue to mold and fulfill our eternal identities, “that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” (Moro. 7:48.) Pursuing that course—the end of our creation—brings us unbounded happiness. (See 2 Ne. 2:25.)
It was apparent to Sister Hill and me when we were married fifty years ago that the happiest people we knew had maintained a balance in their lives by working hard to succeed in earning a living, by developing good family relations, and by strengthening their testimonies of the gospel by accepting and magnifying calls to serve others.
I grew up in a home where those three areas received sincere attention. Although the academic side was very strong, scriptures like the following were also part of my upbringing: “[Learn] of things both in heaven and in the earth” (D&C 88:78–79); “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118); “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36); and “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6).
I cannot remember a time when I did not enjoy the blessing of faith. Doubts and questions periodically arose and were discussed with my parents and resolved. An underlying faith in the Lord was always present.
Realizing the need for balance, Sister Hill and I readily accepted calls to serve in the Church and at the same time we worked hard on our studies, research, and other secular pursuits.
Early in my first year in a doctoral program, I was called to be a counselor in a branch presidency. My LDS student peers and some of the faculty members advised me to not dilute my academic efforts and future success by taking on that assignment. Sister Hill and I prayed for guidance. I accepted the call as well as a later call to serve as branch president.
Near the end of my doctoral research, several of my colleagues complained to me that I “goofed off” every weekend and yet seemed to have more success in my lab experiments and exams than they enjoyed, even though they worked hard all week long. I explained to them that I was not goofing off by fulfilling my Church duties but was busy on weekends doing other useful work.
That the Lord blesses those who serve him was verified to Sister Hill and me two years before I finished my studies. As the birth of our first child was approaching, we began making plans for me to postpone school so that Sister Hill, who had been providing our income, could be at home while I earned the money we would need. At a propitious moment, I was asked to teach a chemistry class at the university. I accepted the position, and the good salary enabled me to complete my studies and cover the expense of our son’s and, later, our daughter’s births.
In my youth, my father taught me to decide in advance—so that judgment would not be clouded by peer pressure and emotions—how I would respond to various temptations. That counsel has proved to be useful through the years.
Many years ago, I was a member of a scientific team sent to the former Soviet Union to work out a technological exchange agreement. Part of my responsibility as director of the United States Office of Coal Research was to help carry out President Richard Nixon’s charge to establish a “bridgehead of understanding” in the nonmilitary field.
On the evening prior to our signing the protocol agreement, I attended a dinner with the president of the energy institute with whom we had been dealing, his wife, and other important figures. When the host presented the first toast for good relations between the United States and the USSR, I picked up not the vodka glass but a glass of water and sipped from it to complete the toast. I then proposed a toast and capped it off by taking another sip of water from my glass.
I noticed that my host’s wife became very agitated. When her turn came to offer a toast, she picked up a glass of vodka, walked clear around the table to where I was seated, and put it in my hand. “Doctor Hill will drink with us,” she announced. She then went back to her place, lifted another glass of vodka, offered a gracious toast, and then watched closely to see that I responded by drinking the vodka. The thought flashed through my mind that since I was the only American there, no one would know if I drank the vodka. I knew if I did not do it, I risked offending this beautiful lady and her husband. But I also recalled an agreement I had made with my father and the Lord years ago that I would never drink alcohol. So I gently put down the vodka glass and had another sip of water.
The lady became so upset that her husband had to take her out of the room. I spent a fitful night wondering if I had jeopardized our mission. The next day, at a small luncheon before the agreement was to be signed, the vice-president of the institute sat between me and his boss. He asked me why I had not drunk the vodka when his boss’s wife had made such an issue of it. I said it was a matter of religious conviction and briefly explained the Word of Wisdom and my decision as a boy to abide by it.
He surprised me by saying, “My boss’s wife has an alcoholism problem, and he wants to know what it was that made it possible for you to not drink alcohol when under that heavy social pressure.” Needless to say, I was relieved and elated, particularly as we finished signing the agreement, the mission a success.
Another truth I learned from my father was that a person cannot think of two different things at the same time. He encouraged me to displace bad thoughts by thinking of something else. I decided to test that idea. The next time an unpleasant thought entered my mind, I thought of flying in an airplane over Alaska’s Mount McKinley, my ski gear on and a parachute attached. I imagined bailing out of the plane and gracefully landing atop that majestic mountain and skiing down through magnificent snow fields, spraying powder snow behind me as I made elegant turns and daring jumps off mighty cliffs. Needless to say, the original thought vanished.
Other ways of accomplishing the same thing, advocated by many of the Brethren, include thinking of the words and music of a beloved hymn or reciting a favorite scripture.
As we develop Christlike qualities, the Lord will bless us, and we will succeed not only in that worthy goal but also in other facets of our lives. In our search for truth, we will have wisdom to sift the good from the bad, the true from the false; we will stand firm, not “carried about with every wind of [worldly] doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14.) And we will find balance and happiness in our lives.
I hope we will tune in to the Spirit regularly through studying, praying, and keeping the commandments of the Lord. That course will enable the Lord to impress upon us, through the Holy Ghost, all the things he would have us do and say to further his glorious work and bring us the greatest happiness in this life and in the life to come.