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Faith before reason

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Latter-day Saints have been instructed by the Lord to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.) As we seek both secular and spiritual knowledge, the two sometimes come into apparent collision.

The prophets have counseled us to put faith first as we strive to reconcile faith and reason. Then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught: "Any doctrine, whether it comes in the name of religion, science, philosophy, or whatever it may be, if it is in conflict with the revealed word of the Lord, will fail. It may appear plausible. It may be put before you in language that appeals and which you may not be able to answer. It may appear to be established by evidence that you cannot controvert, but all you need to do is to abide your time. Time will level all things. You will find that every doctrine, every principle, no matter how universally believed, if it is not in accord with the divine word of the Lord to His servants, will perish." (Conference Report, October 1952, p. 60.)

The "philosophies of men" may prove false for a variety of reasons. Some theories are constructed on an unstable foundation of wrong assumptions. An incident from the life of the Savior illustrates this problem. At the conclusion of the Feast of the Tabernacles at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus declared to the assembled crowd: "He, that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38.) The people understood that Jesus was asserting His claim to be the Messiah, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and a debate ensued: "Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" (John 7:41-42.) The unbelievers had drawn a "reasonable" conclusion on the basis of a false assumption that Jesus was born in Galilee, and not in Bethlehem.

This story teaches another powerful lesson about the search for truth. Jesus was no doubt aware of this disagreement about His identity. Yet nowhere does the scripture record that He tried to dispel doubt by citing the correct facts. How logical it would have been for Him to have said: "No, you're mistaken. I was born in Bethlehem when my mother traveled there during the census of Caesar Augustus." Logical perhaps, but contrary to the fundamentals of faith and agency which forbid force feeding the truth by the power of reason.

Christ's doctrine spoke to the spirits of those who had ears to hear. For them, no further proof was needed.

This life is a test of faith, not of Intelligence Quotient. If spiritual truth could be discovered by reason alone, Heavenly Father's plan for our growth would be frustrated. We must put our faith first as we seek learning. Patience is required as one theory replaces another and relegates it to the discard pile of history. Joseph F. Smith gave wise counsel: "The truth persists, but the theories of philosophers change and are overthrown. What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace. It is the only way to find God." (Improvement Era, Vol. 14 p. 548.)