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Life Sciences Magazine

Dealing with Uncertainty: Reconciling Faith and Science

Ever since 2016, when I heard a report about one of our graduates who couldn’t reconcile faith and science and had become an atheist, every one of my convocation addresses has included advice to our graduates about developing a plan to deal with uncertainty. I want to summarize this advice for you, our friends and alumni who read this magazine. Maybe it can help you or someone you know.

From the beginning of human existence, people have been asking the question, “What is truth?” These days, answers to this question seem further away than ever. With the advent of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and “conspiracy theories,” what are we to think? Even theories supported by experimental evidence are not without detractors.

Science is a way of finding truth. Th e Latin root of this word, scientia, means “knowledge.” Collins Dictionary defines science as follows: “To know about nature and the physical world through observation, study, and experimentation.” I know many of you have experience in applying the scientific method. We formulate hypotheses, perform experiments, gather and analyze data, and make conclusions based on statistical tests. But even when our conclusions are supported by statistics, there is always a certain amount of uncertainty that has to be allowed.

Faith is another way of finding truth. Th e Latin root of this word, fides, means “to trust.” Dictionary.com defines faith as "a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” In this case, a spiritual apprehension is an awareness or understanding that comes through the Spirit, not through the scientific method. In a revelation given through Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery, who was seeking knowledge, the Lord said, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2). I might add that the promptings of the Spirit come after we have done our part to study things out, and that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge. We don’t have meters that can measure these promptings, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get promptings and learn to trust them.

As you read and ponder and seek for additional truth in both your faith and your science, I hope you will remember the following.

I so look forward to that day, but in the meantime, I am willing to live with some ambiguity. I hope that you, too, can be patient.

  1. Remember that not having a perfect knowledge about something does not mean that you don’t know anything about it.
  2. Keep on experimenting and trust that your uncertainty in matters of both faith and science will diminish. You can follow Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
  3. Be patient and wait for apparent contradictions to resolve themselves as your knowledge grows. If too hasty, you could make decisions with eternal consequences that are based on an incomplete understanding. I have found comfort in the promise recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101, that when the Savior returns He will clear up all things:32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things— 33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof— 34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.

I so look forward to that day, but in the meantime, I am willing to live with some ambiguity. I hope that you, too, can be patient.