What of the
Defending the Truth
Excerpt from And thus We See by Craig A. Cardon who was a member of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this BYU commencement address was given 24 April 2014.
I conclude with another story from my experience at Harvard. While there I unofficially audited a class jointly taught by three Harvard professors: a lawyer, a theologian, and a scientist. The title of the course was intriguing: “Thinking About Thinking.”
The format of the class was to introduce subjects of societal interest, such as Religion and Violence or The Role of Dissent, and then examine each subject rigorously from the perspective of each of these three disciplines. In each session one of the professors would introduce the subject, and then each professor would explain the perspective of his discipline on it. The three professors would engage one another directly, often pointedly criticizing the lack of relevance or outright error he found in the other disciplines. These exchanges sometimes spilled over into the several hundred students gathered in the amphitheater classroom. I found it a remarkable experience.
One such session focused on the sources of authority in law, religion, and science—especially on matters of morality. Following the introduction by the theologian, the scientist simply observed that science creates moral dilemmas; it doesn’t answer them. He noted, for example, that without science there would be no transplanting of human organs and therefore no black market for such organs. He had little to say thereafter.
The lawyer then stood and declared that there are only three sources of knowledge or authority: revelation, discovery (of something already existing), and invention. He then began a vigorous line of questioning, wanting to know from the theologian, in essence, the difference between religion and philosophy. The theologian’s reply was, frankly, anemic. He acknowledged the contributions of philosophers and defined religion as a belief system and a body of believers. The lawyer was not satisfied, and with great animation he questioned why he or anyone else should consider religion’s voice any more authoritative than philosophy’s voice. He also demanded to know where there was any religious voice on earth even claiming to speak authoritatively in the name of God.
A few moments of awkward silence ensued as the theologian considered how he might respond. His next words were, for me, both unexpected and remarkable. He said, in essence: “Well, there was a man by the name of Joseph Smith who lived in the 1800s and claimed that God spoke to him, and he printed a book entitled the Book of Mormon that he claimed came from God and contains God’s word for the world today. And the church that he founded, the Mormon Church, is directed today by those who claim to be prophets and apostles to whom God speaks.”
The lawyer was momentarily silenced as he attempted to process what he had just heard. He then asked, in essence, “Well, is there anyone else?”
The theologian responded, “No.”
The lawyer then continued his critique of religion, essentially ignoring what had just been “placed in evidence.”
Although the response of this capable theologian was inconsistent with his own belief, in the press of the moment he had unwittingly identified the singular place where revealed truth and the preeminence of spiritual enlightenment in learning are found and taught. He had also affirmed their validity.
Surprising though this interchange was, especially in the environment in which I sat, the significance of what I had just witnessed was not lost on me. Nor was it lost on my nonmember colleagues, who, following the class, wondered why the lawyer had not engaged the response more directly. Not knowing the mind of the lawyer, I could only surmise that he was attempting to not give added attention to the one voice that directly and authoritatively refuted his premise.