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Ensign » 1978 » October

My Father’s Formula

By Henry Eyring


Henry Eyring, “My Father’s Formula,” Ensign, Oct 1978, 28

It helped me both as a scientist and as a Latter-day Saint.

The following is excerpted from an address by Dr. Henry Eyring, internationally prominent Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of Utah, a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Science, and recipient of many scientific honors.

For me, the essence of the gospel is the doctrine of trying. The Savior told us to try his words to see if the doctrine be true, “whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17.)

And that, of course, is the essence of science, also: the doctrine of trying, testing, and proving. That’s the kind of procedure that makes science what it is. That’s why one is able to be a Latter-day Saint as well as a scientist.

That’s why I wasn’t too bothered when someone once said to me, “Henry, see that man over there? He’s a member of your church, and he’s a mess.” I agreed but added, “You should see what he’d be like if it weren’t for the gospel.”

The gospel may not make a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but it will make everybody better if they live it. I’ve tried it. It stands the test.

From my point of view, revealed religion is to be expected. I can’t get away from the idea that there is an overriding Providence, a God who cares, who is compassionate, and who can communicate with us.

But, when someone asks me to “prove there is a God,” I wonder what he means. I suppose he means, he wants me to prove it logically. But the truth can’t be established by logic alone because even sound logic doesn’t always yield right conclusions. In the Middle Ages some people thought the world was flat. To them that was perfectly logical; and though their logic may have been impeccable, their conclusions were false because they started from false assumptions.

The point is that, in religion, in science, in everything that really matters, only correct assumptions can lead to reliable conclusions.

Assumptions are the convictions we hold about the world; they come from our experiences and experiments, and the experiences and experiments of others.

If I were asked to discuss my convictions, or assumptions, I would start this way: I assume there is a Supreme Intelligence of the universe. I don’t think that anyone could say that is illogical. All they can do is disagree with it.

If I were asked how I arrived at this conclusion, I would say, “From my experiences and the experiences of others.” On the basis of what happened to Paul and to Joseph Smith, and the day by day unfolding of marvelous scientific laws, I feel obliged to ask, “What is back of all this?” Each of us, of course, responds to this situation in his own way.

I conclude that there is a Supreme Intelligence, God, whom I worship. That means that I’m going to continue to pray because I believe that God, the wisest Being in the universe, is compassionate and knows my innermost thoughts.

Some people conclude that the injustices existing in the world prove there is no God. On the contrary, I conclude that God, being both just and merciful, will and can rectify all inequities in a life after death.

Of necessity I use the same mind and the same method of proving and testing to come to my scientific convictions that I use in coming to my religious faith.

I would now like to go back into some personal history. It was a Friday evening in September 1919. I had been hauling hay all day in Pima, Arizona. It had been very hot and we’d been drinking lots of water. On Monday I was going to start classes at the University of Arizona where I was to study mining engineering. In the evening my father, as fathers often do, felt that he’d like to have a last talk with his son. He wanted to be sure I’d stay on the straight and narrow. He said, “Henry, won’t you come and sit down? I want to talk to you.”

Well, I’d rather do that than pitch hay any time. So, I went over and sat down with him.

“We’re pretty good friends, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” I said, “I think we are.”

“Henry, we’ve ridden together on the range, and we’ve farmed together. I think we understand each other. Well, I want to say this to you: I’m convinced that the Lord used the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore his church. For me that is a reality. I haven’t any doubt about it. Now, there are a lot of other matters which are much less clear to me. But in this Church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true. You go over to the University of Arizona and learn everything you can, and whatever is true is a part of the gospel. The Lord is actually running this universe. I’m convinced that he inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith. And I want to tell you something else: if you go to the university and are not profane, if you’ll live in such a way that you’ll feel comfortable in the company of good people, and if you go to church and do the other things that we’ve always done, I don’t worry about your getting away from the Lord.”

That was about sixty years ago. I still don’t have all the answers, nor does any man. But I’m still convinced that there’s a God who used the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the gospel just like he turned Paul around from being a persecutor of the Saints to being one of the foremost missionaries of all time. Why? Because the Lord needed him, and the Lord used him.

Why did he do the same thing to the Prophet Joseph Smith? For one reason, because Joseph Smith had the almost unique ability to listen. There are lots of smart people in the world. Some of them are so smart that they can’t be told anything. One of the wonderful characteristics about the men who shaped the restored church is that they had the humility to listen. And that’s very important to every one of us. God will use us for his purposes, but it takes a certain kind of listening.

I believe that what is really important is that God can speak to us. If we have the humility to approach him in prayer with the right attitude, he can speak to our intelligence directly.

So, if by trying and testing as Jesus recommended, you share my assumption that the Lord is a revelator, and is all-wise and can speak to whom he will, and can tell them what he wants to tell them, then you have used the scientific method to bring you closer to God.

Science by its very limitations can instill the humility which helps us to listen. When science serves that purpose it becomes tremendously important.

In summary, the gospel teaches us to try the words of the Savior, to do as the scientist does and build theories, to predict, to make measurements, to compare them with predictions and come to conclusions as to what is true.

I have followed this procedure to arrive at the conclusion that this gospel is true, that there is a Supreme Intelligence, that there is a God who cares, who speaks to his children, who spoke to Joseph Smith, and who speaks today.

This is a message that many great men have believed all through the ages, and is as important today as it ever was.

[illustration] Illustrated by Karl Homas

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