"I don't mind stalkers. As long as they're socially-responsible stalkers." - Yellow
Question #60673 posted on 11/19/2010 9:58 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

The writer of the blog in Question 60592 mentions that he disagrees with the principle of faith, saying no one should require you to believe in anything without evidence to support it (ie-scientific, tangible evidence). The first principle of the gospel is faith. If you were in a dialogue with this person what would you say to them? How would you convey the importance of faith as a true principle?

Cleph

A:

Dear Cleph,

If you happen to be at BYU right now, you should go talk to Dr. Goodsell of the Sociology Department. He can tell you all about the conflict between scientific and religious epistemes.  Basically, scientists are (or claim to be) empiricists.  They only accept as "truth" what they can physically sense.  If they do not see, taste, touch, smell, or hear something, it cannot be true.  But there are nonempirical "truths" out there that other people believe in.  Like revelation through the Spirit or pure reason and logic.  Just because you cannot sense something does not mean that it isn't true. 

If the person you are talking to comes from a strictly scientific/empiricist episteme, you are not going to be able to communicate with them about religion/non-empiricism.  To some extent, both people involved in the conversation are going to think that the other person is crazy to define "truth" the way they do.  If I were talking to this person, I would just say that I am a non-empiricist.  I simply do not believe that "truth" is limited to what I can physically sense.  I respect that his definition of "truth" is different and requires empirical evidence, but that is not how I think.  If I feel something is true in my heart or mind or soul, I can act on it just as much as I would if I saw or heard physical evidence to support it.

-Pseudoname

A:

Dear Cleph,

Ready for a very pretentious opening? (ahem) Let me give you my perspective as a scientist. Pretentious, no? But actually, I identify myself that way with confidence, since I am both pursuing an advanced degree in science and am a certified Clinical Laboratory Scientist. So there you go.

If someone were to ask me if God exists, I would say, "Yes, I know he does." If they were to ask if I know that the Church is true, I would say, "Absolutely I know it is." I am aware that the way LDS Church members use the word "know" is bothersome because many people imagine that God (and the truth about his existence and anything regarding the truth of any particular religion) to be unknowable if such truth exists at all. This is simply not the case.

Science is about finding verifiable evidence that describes or explains a measurable phenomenon. Faith, or at least true faith, asks people to begin with a set of assumptions (about God, about the reality of the Savior, etc.) and behave in a certain way because of those assumptions with the assurance that an outcome will be reached. I live the commandments and I am happy. I read and pray about the Book of Mormon and I receive a witness of the Holy Ghost that it is true. This happiness is internal and this witness is personal, but how could anyone say that this is not evidence? I plant the seed and take care of it and it grows.

The proof of God and the confirmation of one's faith in him is not, and never has been, riches and wealth (though righteous people can become wealthy). It is not miraculous healings or extension of mortal life (though some righteous people are healed and brought back from the dead). It is not based on an increased number of good things or the decrease of bad things in life. These things only confirm faith if it is there and cannot create it. And the evidence of its creation is, and always will be, an individual confirmation directly from God. This makes the proof of faith infinitely more powerful than the logical demonstration of any scientific data, but also fundamentally different from it, almost to the point of it being incomparable.

Does the evidence, the proof, of faith seem to be a fraud, an impossible delusion to someone else? Well, let them try it as well. If they don't follow the stipulations of the experiment (they assume it is false, they have no intention of believe a witness even if they received one), well, how is that any different than expecting to get a particular outcome in an experiment by starting with all the wrong ingredients? And as far as it being verifiable, you can receive a similar witness of the Holy Ghost every time you read the Book of Mormon. You can compare your spiritual experiences with those of other people as recorded in the scriptures or in the writings of prophets and apostles. You can make a graph indicating the strength of your testimony plotted against the strictness with which you keep the commandments if you wanted. But even if it is personally given, evidence is evidence, even if we don't have instruments to measure it like we do for other equally real phenomena.

The fundamental reality here is that truth is truth is truth. The earth would revolve around the sun even if no one believed it. Water molecules would consist of one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen even if no one ever thought to look and see that. God exists, the Savior is real, the Church is true, even if no one believes it. Faith simply allows you to imagine the possibility that these things are true, and that belief allows you to act on that possibility. If your faith is founded in a true principle, you will reach a point where you know, absolutely, that it is true. And that is proof, even if I can't make anyone else believe it. 

- Rating Pending (who always found Alma's seed as an evidence-based example to be extremely appealing. You know, as a scientist.)