By Tim L.
During my time as a Mormon missionary, I often had the chance to share my conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ on the Earth today. In response I was often asked, “How do you know?” How can we know anything of a spiritual nature?
I think a lot of intelligent people are averse to religion because they perceive a lack of proof for the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ. I understand this need for proof. Every day I think about how to use data to find evidence for various economic theories, and I’m always fairly skeptical of those theories until I am presented with some sort of proof of their veracity. I am no different when it comes to religious topics.
Any researcher can tell you how the scientific method works:
- Define the question
- Gather information and resources
- Form hypothesis
- Perform experiment and collect data
- Analyze data
- Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as starting point for new hypothesis
- Publish results
For hundreds of years, this has been the method we have used to develop new knowledge about the world we live in. We use it for scientific questions; could it be used for spiritual questions as well? What do you think?
In a book of scripture called the Book of Mormon, two ancient prophets argue that it can (Alma 32; Moroni 10:3-5). They use slightly different terminology, but the steps are very similar. Alma compares the process of gaining spiritual knowledge to an experiment we all probably did in elementary school: planting a seed and watching it grow. Moroni is more specific in his instructions, as he explains exactly how to gain personal knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon, but his instructions are applicable to any other questions as well. He first tells us to read from the book and think about what we’ve read (steps 1-2). Next he asks us to “receive these things,” meaning we need to accept the possibility of their truth (step 3). His next instruction is to “ask God if these things are not true,” implying that we already believe them to be true just as when performing an experiment, we usually believe it will work. Finally, he explains that if we do those things, if our hypothesis is correct, we will know it by the power of the Holy Ghost (steps 5-6). You are then free to “publish your results” by sharing them with friends and family, and just as with a scientific hypothesis, your confidence in your result is increased each time you retest (steps 7-8).
The only difference I can find between the scientific method, and the one described above is the implementation of step 6. In a science experiment you would use statistics to determine if your hypothesis can be rejected, something any statistician will tell you that you can never know for sure, but rather only with a certain level of confidence. Instead, when seeking answers to spiritual hypotheses, you have to receive your answer from the source of spiritual knowledge: God himself. As Moroni taught, this knowledge is received through the Holy Ghost, and from experience I can say this knowledge comes in the form of a certainty you feel or a strong feeling of happiness or peace (Galatians 5:22-23). While it may seem like knowledge received this way is not as solid as scientific knowledge, first remember that due to the nature of statistics, scientific knowledge can never be proven 100% true but can only be proven to a certain level of confidence, and second, a certainty placed in your mind by God himself will always provide you with a stronger personal proof of His existence than a paper that describes the experiences of some other researcher’s experience. I invite you to use this method and share some of your experiences here on this blog.