My second son Layne is comfortable in the realm of ideas, which makes him fun to teach. This summer he has taken an interest in the periodic table, which I have on a poster in his room. He wasn’t interested in memorizing it or learning what is in it, he wanted to learn how it was made. How did scientists like Mendeleev figure out the classification of elements long before we could see them under an electron microscope? How can we find new elements and what can they do? That is what Layne was interested in.
At first I searched YouTube for videos and they were helpful. Today he and I sat down with a fascinating book that details the origins of thoughts about the elements. Pre-modern philosophers and scientists categorized the elements into four groups; fire, water, earth, and sky. Most of their understanding of these elements was mixed with mythology and religion. This sometimes led to scientists being persecuted for unorthodox theories and explorations. The Greeks secularized their science making a less rigid structure and allowing for much progress. Today, science is totally secular. This has enabled science to transcend the boundaries of country and culture and resulted in the explosion of knowledge. Science has exalted mankind’s power over the world. Because of the power of science, it has had the unfortunate effect of casting a large shadow over all other aspects of humanity. Mythology, religion, and all those things that unite us culturally are devalued and marginalized in favor of those things we can prove through models, statistics, and peer reviewed experimentation.
Last night at dinner, we discussed the Dunning/Krueger effect. This effect shows the inverse relationship of confidence with competence; with what we think we know with what we actually know about a subject. As moderns, we think we understand science. Science, which has been built upon centuries and millennia of observation and innovation, is merely a YouTube video or a Google search away. And yet endless varieties of scientific disinformation is also available. Truth can be found, but it must be fished for in a sea of lies, simplifications, and distortions. Often a diet of superficial and sometimes false information can delude us into thinking we are wise and know much more than we do. The Dunning/Krueger effect can create a collective pride in our achievements and our wisdom as though they were not passed down to us from the past; as though we have transcended our ancestors who wallowed in filth and ignorance. On this shaky tower of false confidence and sense of entitlement, the modern world threatens to fall into chaos. My fourteen year old son looked into my eyes with a confusion that seemed ancient. “How can we know what is true and what’s not?” He asked.
There was another fourteen year old boy who asked that same question. He was wondering about the truth about God and what doctrines and philosophies were correct. He prayed to God in a grove of trees in New York with the faith that if anyone lacks wisdom he can ask for divine inspiration, directly from God, and that God would reveal the truth to him. Joseph Smith’s faith was richly rewarded with a torrent of revelations which we have today as the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. As I testified of these things to my son, I asked him if he believed that God would answer his prayers for truth. He said he believed.
As our prophet today speaks of the great restoration of the last days. I can’t help but wonder at the exponential explosion of scientific understanding that has commenced in the last two hundred years. I wonder what other areas are ripe for development? What other truths of human life is God ready to reveal to us if we are able to receive it? What opposition will we face as we find and reveal those truths to the world? What part do I play in the restoration of all things?
All I know for sure is that I will search. I will ask the questions. I will dare to be conscious of truth no matter what it reveals. I will teach my children the same and hope that they will also be a part of this glorious restoration. With humility, with an understanding of the limits of mortal understanding, with the hope in a God who is Mighty to Reveal, Mighty to Guide, and Mighty to Save, I face the future with faith. Blessed be the name of the Lord.