BYU Speeches – The Sacred Gift of Agency

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Today I listened to Dr. David Dearden’s BYU address given on 31 March 2009. He is a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University. As a fellow scientist (although I am in the neurosciences and psychological sciences) I appreciated his views on science, faith, and agency. His talk is entitled The Sacred Gift of Agency. He states that all he sees in science affirms his faith in God; in other words, all he learns about nature, chemistry, physics, and the universe strengthens his faith and belief in God. He believes this way because he chooses to: “Well-meaning people may honestly disagree with my interpretation of how the universe is put together. Agency allows and requires this possibility. But for me, as I noted above, science is faith affirming because I choose to believe, and everything else follows.”

That is exactly my experience. Everything I learn about the brain or behavior or other sciences, strengthens my faith in God. I look at someone’s brain and I see God’s work. My faith in God is strengthened by science because I too, “[first] choose to believe, and everything else follows.” However, science is not sure; it is never sure. What I mean is that science is not perfect – our methods of science are not perfect. Even more than that, being completely, 100 percent sure goes against the very fabric of the method by which we conduct science. This does not mean that we can never trust science but it also means that through science we can never be entirely sure of what we learn from science. We can be reasonable sure about most things we learn from science but fully trusting all science is placing ‘blind faith’ in a fallible knowledge system. Science is the search for knowledge, it reveals little about Truth. I love science, it is what I spend most of my time doing; I love research and discovering knowledge and learning but I recognize the limitations of science.

There is something about which we can be sure. That is God. Those who have not felt the influence of the Holy Ghost (or at least did not recognize it) might not understand this principle. Those of us who have felt this Spirit and recognized it for what it is know this principle – certainty only comes from God. There are other things we can know for certain – we can know of someone’s love for us or our love for them. We can know other things but even with my love example, how often have you heard someone say, “I thought I loved them” or “I thought they loved me.” Even love can be deceiving some times (but thankfully, not all the time).

There is something about the influence of the Spirit that is absolute. What I mean is that His influence is certain. This is not to say that we can not deny it – we certainly can, that is part of our agency – but by denying it we are only lying to ourselves and to God. An example of someone who knew the truth but chose to deny it is Korihor. Here is part of the exchange he had with Alma:

“37 And then Alma said unto [Korihor]: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.” (Alma 30:37-42).

Alma knew Korihor believed in God and have felt the Spirit. Korihor was simply lying to himself and others. He acknowledged as much after he asked for a sign from God and then lost his power of speech.

“52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

“53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:52-53).

Korihor used his agency to choose to not believe in God, even though he always knew there was a God. His actions stemmed from that lie. I choose to believe in God, to not deny the feelings I have felt; I try to let my actions follow from my belief.

I’d like to share an experience from Dr. Dearden’s BYU address. It strikes a melodic chord with me because in many ways, I’m in a similar situation as he was in this experience.

“One of the great experiences of my life came as I was beginning my independent career as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington. Paul had a great experience on the road to Damascus, and I had my own on the road to Dallas. No, I did not see the Savior as Paul did, but I did experience His love, and I got to see how many little, seemingly less-important choices added up to bless me.

“I was trying hard to raise a family and to serve faithfully in the Church. It is challenging to do this as a young assistant professor. I had taken the job planning to pursue a certain course of research that appeared to have good opportunities for funding. I set up my lab and needed a test problem to check whether or not my instruments were working. I wasn’t quite ready to do what I had originally planned, and I remembered some work I had done years before as an undergraduate at BYU. This gave me an idea for a new experiment. It wasn’t a big deal, but I tried it, and it worked.

“I wanted to attend a scientific meeting I thought would further my career. I needed something to present at the conference because the university required me to present in order to fund the trip, so I took the results of my test experiment and drove 700 miles from Dallas to Nashville to attend the meeting. It was just a poster presentation, one among hundreds, but I was shocked at the strong positive response I received.

“I had to drive the 700 miles home by myself, and that was when the revelation began. All
the way home it was as if I heard a voice saying over and over, ‘Drop your original plans and pursue this other course of research.’ I did, and that choice laid the foundation for my entire subsequent career. In part, that is why I am here at BYU today. It may not have won a Nobel Prize, but the choice was a good one. It came after much thought and hard work and led to much more thought and hard work. I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot. It has blessed my life.”

Let me repeat my favorite part: “I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot.

God loves each of us. We can know Him beyond doubt, even though we do not see Him (at this time in our existence). “All thin
gs denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44). All things denote there is a God to those who choose to believe and serve Him. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We all have agency; what is important is that we use that agency to believe in God and do His will.

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