Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we recognize gospel learning to be line upon line and precept upon precept or, in more modern terms, a process of studying to understand (Isaiah 28:10). Despite this recognition, the question still remains, “When does faithful learning become knowledge? How can we know with a surety if something is true?” Daris Howard, BYU-Idaho mathematics professor and the devotional speaker for Oct. 26, 2021, explored the answers to these questions in his talk called “Gaining Knowledge of the Truthfulness of the Gospel.”
During his first year of graduate school at Utah State University, Howard experienced an unusual reception from his supervising instructor. “I don’t like you,” his supervisor said as Howard entered his office to meet him for the first time. This marked the beginning of several blatant outbursts of mockery from this supervisor, but Howard persisted in following what he knew to be true. Persistent action later served him well despite opposition.
Later that fall, Howard attended a university department party with his wife where this same supervisor was calling him out for “ruining the fun” and not drinking beer with the rest. The host of the party, a young Dr. David Jensen (name changed), noticed the commotion and inquired about the matter. Howard explained how he and his wife choose not to drink becasue of religious belief. Surprised but open-minded, Dr. Jensen left the party and swiftly returned with the couple’s favorite sodas. Considerate acts like this characterized Dr. Jensen’s relationship with Howard despite not sharing any similar religious values.
As a man of logic and a self-proclaimed atheist, Dr. Jensen was perplexed by the degree of both intellect and faith Howard demonstrated in his projects at the university. During a private conference with Howard one day after a long lecture on mathematics, Dr. Jensen expressed how he felt logic and belief in God could not co-exist within the same mind, yet Howard seemed to have both. He asked Howard to explain how that is possible.
Upon leaving class that day, Howard stewed over his answer to Dr. Jensen’s question, recognizing it was asked with real intent. Nothing seemed to truly satisfy the question until that Sunday at church. After sacrament meeting, Howard was approached by a man who briefly conversed then gave him a talk by Elder Dalin H. Oaks called “In the Lord’s Way.” In an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio, Howard gave the following insight about that experience.
“I feel like God had a hand in helping that happen so that I had the answer that I could give to Dr. Jensen, that I could respond to him because I was really kind of at a loss at exactly how to explain to someone who had never experienced anything spiritual …that there is a way to know but its not the way that we do in science,” Howard said.
The talk outlined how spiritual knowledge must be obtained through God’s “scientific process” or reading, pondering and praying. Miraculously, it was the answer to Howard’s prayer and Dr. Jensen’s question. This was Howard’s winning conclusion.
“You can study academically all you want and that’s good. It’s good. You have to have that as part of it, but without the study in God’s way prayer, fasting, scripture study, obeying the commandments, and all those things, then you’re not going to actually lock in a testimony,” Howard said.