Wise, Yet Harmless

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One of the greatest missionaries that we have record of is Ammon. He was the son of a king who, with his brothers, gave up his right of inheritance of the kingship to serve as a missionary to the end of his life if necessary. Ammon and his brothers went to teach the Lamanites. Ammon was captured but convinced the king – Lamoni – to allow him to be his servant. Lamoni was so impressed that he offered Ammon a marriage to one of his daughters. Ammon refused but took upon himself the role of servant. After an impressive show of sword and sling, saving sheep and servants, Ammon was summoned to the presence of King Lamoni. Lamoni thought that Ammon might be the Great Spirit, come to punish him for his sins.

Ammon convinced Lamoni that he was a man but one who served God. Lamoni was so impressed with Ammon and Ammon’s spirit of discernment and prophecy that he said, “How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks— And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee” (Alma 18:20-21).

Now that we have context, we can move on to the next line. “Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.” (Alma 18:22).

What does it mean that Ammon was wise, yet harmless? There is much power in wisdom. With wisdom comes the power to abuse. Generally those who are wise are wise enough to not take advantage of others but that threat exists. Ammon was wise, he understood human nature; he had insight into Lamoni given to him by God. Ammon could have used his wisdom to gain great worldly power and wealth. He could have used his wisdom for great harm. Ammon didn’t though. He was “harmless.” Ammon only desired positive things for and from Lamoni. Ammon was a servant of God who wanted just to preach God’s word and bring others to Christ. Ammon used his wisdom for good.

Wisdom is a gift from God. Some people have it, others do not. Some people gain it through life experiences, others do not. Some seek after it, other eschew it. It is important for those who are wise to be harmless like Ammon. We must use our God-given gifts for the benefit of others and not for selfish reasons. Wisdom is a call to service; it is not a call of superiority. May we all be wise, yet harmless like Ammon!

Science and Religion

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In the late 1800s Edwin Abbott wrote a satirical novella called Flatland. While written as a commentary on Victorian society, physicists and mathematicians have used the concepts of the story to help explain higher dimensional space. In Flatland there are only two dimensions. Imagine the world as 2D – there are x and y axes but no z. The world would be like an infinitely thin sheet of paper. While such a world could be beautiful and rich, there is a depth missing that those of us who live in a three spatial dimension world (like we all do; 3 dimensions suffice for our discussion now unless we want to get into a discussion of some of the theories or propositions of theoretical physics, in which case there are some who believe that our universe has a number of other dimensions than the viewable three {and non-viewable one of time}). We, in our 3D world, can easily comprehend all of the 2D Flatland. However, Flatlanders cannot comprehend 3 dimensions. If a 3 dimensional being passed through Flatland, the Flatlanders would only see cross-sections of the 3 dimensional being. This would allow a glimpse of the being but not a full comprehension of him or her.

My point with all of this is that science is like Flatland. Religion turns the world of Flatland into our world – a world of 3 rich dimensions. The three dimensions fully encompass the 2 dimensional world of science. Science and religion are complementary. Let me qualify that statement – true science and true religion are complementary. Science has breath and height; religion adds depth. Science teaches us much but religion allows us to understand the world from a greater perspective. Having the 3rd dimension offers a perspective of and purpose for science that science cannot achieve by itself.

If (true) religion is inclusive of (true) science, why do we need science? Why then does religion not answer all the questions about the world and universe around us? Why does science provide so many answers that religion does not answer?

This stems from science and religion asking different questions. Science asks “Why?” and religion asks “What for?” Science uncovers knowledge, religion teaches wisdom. That is not to say that knowledge cannot be obtained from religion – it can, even to a greater extent than from science – but wisdom are seldom drawn from science.

Science teaches us about the world, the universe, our bodies, and all that is around us. Religion does this but with added meaning and morality. Science does not address meaning; it is also inherently amoral. That is one reason with human and animal research we have ethics boards to review research. Ethics are philosophical replacements for morality and religion. It is telling of science that we require additional philosophical frameworks (e.g., ethics) to provide guidelines for what is appropriate science when applied to human and animal research subjects. This shows that science without a foundation of morality (ethics are a branch of morality; someone can personally be amoral or immoral while still being ethical but ethics would not exist without morality; morality only exists because of religion and inspiration from God. Morality exists because of our consciences given unto us by God).

Science is important. There are few things in life that I love more than science. Science is what I do. However, I recognize its limitations. Religion, particularly the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adds a richness to my life that science never could add. My religion and my faith teach me to be a better person, science just teaches me. I see no contest between science and religion – they are parts of the same whole. Science adds to my faith and my faith adds to my science. They are not separate spheres, they are overlapping and inseparable. For me, science would lose much richness without religion and my life would lose much richness without science.

The more I learn about the world, particularly the human brain – my own particular field of study – the more in awe I am of what God has created. Can we really fathom the human brain? Can we truly understand the 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between neurons in the human central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)? What’s even more amazing is the ability of the brain to change – to learn and grow. It has infinite storage capacity. Think of that, our brains have the ability to continue to learn new things indefinitely. That does not happen in this life because of degeneration due to age but there is still no limit on what we can learn. In the post-mortal life we will have the ability to continue to progress in knowledge infinitely – spirit and body inseparably connected in an immortal form will be able to learn more faster than we now can.

I believe that science and religion go hand in hand. When there are clashes, that just demonstrates that we have more to learn doctrinally or scientifically. This means that if I ever had to choose between my faith and my science, I would choose my faith. Thankfully, I get to choose both because both add to my understanding of life. This is all why ongoing revelation and sensitivity to the Spirit of God is so important – it will guide us in all things. All things will be revealed at some point, most likely not in our lifetimes but in the post-mortal world. Then we will see with eyes unfettered. As our faith and even science are founded upon the rock of Christ we can continue to grow and progress to become more like Him, including knowing what He knows.

Seek Learning

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When I was growing up our family made a weekly trip to the local library. Occasionally we’d not go for 2-3 weeks but generally we were at the library every week. Each of us would come home with a stack of books, which we would then read over the next 1-3 weeks. For the most part the books I checked out were novels or other fiction works but I’d also check out non-fiction books. We were and are a family of readers. All of this reading supplemented our education in school, which was very good. From an early age I gained a love of learning.

One thing I really loved was animals so I read animal encyclopedias and many other animal books. I also learned about music, coins, roses, electricity, and many other topics. There were algebra, history, anatomy, and other books at our house. My parents also exposed us to computers; while I might have spent more time using a computer (and still do) than my parents might like (although apples don’t fall far from trees), most of my work today is focused around computers. The research I do is not possible without computers. Growing up we also learned to work; we had daily and weekly jobs. We learned to take care of a garden and fruit trees and the house. We learned the scriptures and the gospel. Learning was not limited to just secular or sacred – we learned about all good things.

The Lord said: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). The title of this blog is taken from that verse. We are commanded to seek learning and wisdom by study and by faith. We cannot just have faith without works, we cannot learn without studying. We need to seek out and study the best books. Those books are not just the scriptures or religious works, they can be anything from sacred to secular. We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept all good and all truth, regardless of its source.

However, learning can be a two-edged sword. There are many people who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). If you learn and study but never find the truth, there is not much point in your studies. These are some of the same learned who believe they are also wise because they know a lot. Because they have a lot of knowledge they think that they do not have to listen to (or believe in) the counsels of God. They become (or already are) humanists. Of these people the Lord said, “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28).

The Lord commands us to study and learn but He wants us also to be faithful. That is what the next verse in 2 Nephi says: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). We should learn; we should learn all we can but we must always be faithful. Why? Because we are to seek learning by study and faith! Learning is incomplete if we just study without faith.

This is something I taught the Teachers in our ward on Sunday – that studying is important; more importantly, we should exercise faith when we study. We should pray when we study. I ask for God’s help as I work on my dissertation; maybe not every time I work on it but often. Does that mean I should expect to always be successful and have earth-shattering research? No, but I seek for truth in all I study and learn. Not only is that what the Lord has told us to do but also that is what I have found to be most effective in my life whether I am studying the brain, reading Shakespeare, doing calculus, or reading the scriptures.