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Impact Magazine

Dean's Message

Dean James Porter
Photo by Nate Edwards

The Department of Biology invited Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer to be the speaker for our College Seminar in January 2021. Dr. Kimmerer is a Distinguished Teaching Professor at SUNY in Syracuse, NY, and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. An abbreviated version of her talk is included in this edition of Impact. I was struck by her notion of “intellectual imperialism,” whereby scientists often hold to the idea that, “Our way is the only way to understand the biophysical world.” She wondered how the knowledge she gained about the relationship between the earth and its people through her lived experience—her “indigenous knowledge”—fit into the equation.

I could also ask, “How does knowledge gained through spiritual means fit into the equation?” It is true that science relies on knowledge that is gained by observation using one or more of our special senses. As a physiologist, I know about sensory receptors, action potentials, neurons, and neural networks that allow us to feel, see, hear, smell, or taste. However, the idea that these senses are the only way we can know things creates a false dichotomy between science and faith. For example, science can tell us things about the how of creation, but what can it tell us about the purpose of creation?

Dr. Kimmerer ended her speech by talking about the metaphor of the Three Sisters Garden. In indigenous agriculture, beans, corn, and squash are planted together, rather than in separate plots. The symbiosis among these three crops results in more food being produced. I may be stretching this a bit, but I wonder if we could apply the same metaphor to the generation of new knowledge through the symbiosis of BYU, study, and faith. If we think of BYU as an ideal, rather than a place, the learning and service of present and past students results in fertile minds and hearts that are open to new thinking using both secular and spiritual methodologies. Perhaps this is how we will receive more light, “that...groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). May God bless us all to continually strive for new knowledge and understanding.