Faith and Reason -
A Christian/ LDS Perspective

Faith and reason need not be exclusive. Indeed, true faith is intelligent faith, and benefits from the intelligent application of the scientific method, in which hypotheses are tested and used as experimental stepping stones toward further knowledge.

Christ taught that we can verify the truth of his message experimentally, by doing what He taught:

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself. (John 7:17)
Likewise, in John 8:31 and 32, He taught that following His teachings would result in a knowledge of truth:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Christ taught that knowledge - real knowledge of truth - is discerned through the Spirit of God. To Peter, who could declare that Jesus was the Christ, Christ said that it was not flesh and blood but God the Father that had revealed this knowledge to him (Matt. 16: 15-17). This is much like the experience of Elijah in 1 Kings 19: 11-12. Here the Lord showed Elijah some mighty tangible manifestations: a great wind, an earthquake, a fire, but revelation from the Lord did not come through any of these, though they provided powerful input to the normal mortal senses. Instead, after all that, there came a "still small voice," soft, mild, but carrying revelation from God that provides true knowledge (my interpretation).

It is the manifestation of the Spirit - the Holy Ghost - that lets us know what mortal senses alone are inadequate to convey: that God lives and that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah. In John 14:26 and 15:26, Christ spoke of this "Comforter" which would teach us and would bear witness of Him.

I Corinthians 2: 9-11 teaches us that the things of God may be beyond our database of past experiences ("eye hath not seen nor ear heard"), but the things of God are revealed to us by his Spirit. My experience is that the knowledge God grants - rare though it may be - is as clear and as reliable as any form of sensory input - indeed, much more reliable. Experimentation with prayer - reaching out and learning that there is a Being who wishes to touch us - is how I learned for myself that God exists. It was experimental - and the result was knowledge, not blind faith. Ah, yes, the challenge: discerning the Spirit of God from other sources such as our own desires. The key is to know Him and to learn to know His voice as the sheep know the shepherd. That's another lecture - and I'm not the one to give it. But He lives! - I can say that. (But there's still a whole lot I don't know, don't do, don't understand, or misunderstand - if I'm not mistaken.)

In the Book of Mormon, a discourse by Alma the Younger in 74 B.C. describes the process of developing faith in experimental terms. He urges us to "experiment" with the Gospel message, telling us that we apply it, we will gain data about its effect on our mind and soul. He describes an ongoing process of building knowledge (from Alma chapter 32):

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, ... it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves--... this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.

30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good.... And now behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith....

31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.

32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.

33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.

34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because ye know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls ... and your mind doth begin to expand.

35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

37 .... And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.

38 But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away....

39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof....

41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

An insightful quote on faith and science:

"We are never asked in the Bible to exercise faith in the unbelievable. That is a self-contradictory term. We are never asked to have 'blind' faith nor to take the ever popular leap of faith. Faith is always based on knowledge - either knowledge gained by personal experience of the thing believed, or by the testimony of trustworthy witnesses to the thing believed. In our case we believe the testimony of the Bible, which has proven itself reliable and trustworthy (through fulfilled prophecy, e.g.) as well as the testimony of the good and trustworthy men and women whose testimony it in turn presents. We also believe the testimony of other Christians whose word we find trustworthy. Then, we are also convinced to exercise even greater faith by our personal experience as God does indeed prove himself reliable, and the things He has promised are worked out in us (a new heart, e.g.).

"In the middle ages, unlearned folks heard the priests recite 'hoc est corpus meum,' this is my body, during the mass. They believed it was magic, the bread becoming the body of Christ, and their misunderstanding gave rise to the magic word hocuspocus. Unfortunately, there is still much of the idea of magic in the modern day understanding of faith. Faith is seen as 'believing in that which you know is not really true,' or as being a leap in the dark, or as being blind, as above. People seem to compartmentalize their minds into what they believe by faith and what they believe rationally. God forbid! Schaeffer discusses this compartmentalization in The God Who is There.

"The fact is that the term 'faith' is much more appropriate to the courtroom than to the science lab. Being convinced of the truth of something beyond a reasonable doubt or (as in civil court) by a preponderance of the evidence is exactly how we are called upon to exercise faith by the Scriptures."

-Kirby G. Kee
Posted to the Christians in Science (scichr) mail list 7/24/95.
Mr. Kee is not a Mormon but still kindly granted permission to use his quote on this partially (heavily) LDS page.

Other relevant quotes:

Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, Pg.74

My association with men of great learning in science and philosophy or in religion leads me to conclude that one's faith in spiritual matters is disturbed by his scientific or philosophical studies only because his knowledge in either or both science and religion is deficient.

Ibid., Pg.75-76

", not doubt, is the beginning of all learning, whether in science or religion. It is faith in the wisdom of ages past that leads one to further study, experimentation, and new discovery. It is faith that leads us to seek for spiritual knowledge and power by studying out in our own mind the matter in question, by applying all possible human wisdom to the solution of the problem, and then asking God if the conclusion is right....

The expert in the scientific field is one who by his experimentation has come to know that an announced theory is true. An "expert," so-called, in the spiritual world is in the making when he, by humility and faith, knows that God hears and answers prayer. Such a one has "arrived" when he has an unshakable testimony that God is our Father and that through His Son, Jesus Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

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Last Updated: April 23, 2005