One hundred years ago, in the year 1916, a new concept was released to the world that has since changed mans understanding of everything in the material universe. This was the year Albert Einstein finally published his Theory of General Relativity. It explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity is actually the effects of a phenomenon called ‘space time’. He proved mathematically that all objects distort space and time, the more massive they are, and how close we are to them, the greater the distortions.
In recent years, as the technology has become available, the mathematics of this theory has been tested and proven many times. For example, it says that for a mountaineer, time passes faster at the top of a mountain than it does at sea level. With the aid of two highly accurate synchronised atomic clocks this has been proven. One everyday application of the mathematics of ‘space time’ is experienced every time we make a journey using a GPS. The relative passage of time in the satellites above the Earth is at a different rate to the GPS in the car on the Earth. Without the mathematics of General Relativity it would be impossible for the satellite to accurately track the vehicle on the Earth.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are open to all truth however it is discovered, but there is a distinction between truth about things and truth that determines how we should live. Can the scientific method help us in both these endeavours? Can the scientific method help us to answer the question, is there a God and also, what shall I be?
In the Book of Mormon, a prophet called Alma encouraged some people called the Zoramites to perform thought experiments. He began by teaching the people about faith, he said,
‘faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.’(Alma 32:21)
This statement so clearly describes the beginnings of scientific inquiry. Einstein began with the knowledge and understanding of gravity that Isaac Newton had discovered that is still used today when sending probes to explore the solar system. But it is not perfect knowledge. Exploring possibilities with the mind, what cannot be seen with the eye, is the exercising of faith based on hope.
Returning to Alma, the Zoramites had been taught falsehoods by those who were the spiritual leaders in their society. Alma tells them that there is a God, a supreme being, who uses angels to communicate his words to men, women and children on Earth, but this poses the basic question, how can you know they are from God and if they are true? Alma says:
‘Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you’
Alma then proceeds to outline a thought experiment, he uses an analogy. He compares the word to a seed. Einstein did just the same. When working on his Theory of Special Relativity he imagined a man standing on the platform of a railway station with a lamppost not far from him. He then asked the question, if a train passes at nearly the speed of light would a woman on the train see the light from the lamp come on at the same time as the man standing on the platform? Einstein was being told by Newton that the man on the platform would see the light first, the woman on the train later. The great Scottish mathematician James Clerk Maxwell said they would see it at the same time. Who was right? Could they both be right? Seeing in his minds eye a clock on the platform was the key to the answer.
Ten years before the General Theory, Einstein had given to the world the Theory of Special Relativity with its famed equation, E=MC², but how did finding the final equations begin? They began with what are called, ‘thought experiments’.
A thought experiment is like any other experiment, it begins with a question. The questions that Einstein asked himself usually began with the words, ‘what if?’
It was as a child when Einstein first began asking such questions, like, ‘what if I could chase and catch up with a beam of light; what would I see?’
Alma teaches that if a word, thought or an idea is seen as a seed, if we do not neglect it but nurture it and it grows, bears fruit and if the fruit is delicious, then we can be sure the original word, thought or idea was from God. For Einstein the thought that time would be passing at a different rate for the woman relative to the man was the answer. This thought for him eventually brings forth much fruit; truth that enlightens mankind and leads him on to discovering more truth. Truth will always lead to more truth.
When we consider questions like; who am I, why am I here and what shall I become, how will we find the answers? Having faith in a God above us and His guidance rather than the philosophies and advice of ordinary men will surely provide the best answers.
So how does God speak to us?
1) Words, thoughts and ideas can come directly to us, to our hearts and minds. We call this revelation.
2) Revelation revealed to men in the past and especially the words of Jesus Christ, recorded as scripture, can also inspire and enlighten us.
3) We can also listen to and read the teachings of His appointed messengers of our day. They are called prophets.
But however the word comes we need to test it in our minds and our hearts. In scriptural language we do this as we ponder and pray. To ponder is to do a ‘thought experiment’, asking questions like ‘what if?’ then, by using wisdom and imagination to consider the consequences, we make conclusions. Prayer then comes into the experiment to verify the conclusions we have come to, the idea we have been testing. If our conclusions are true they will bring joy, confidence and freedom. If they are not they will lead to confusion and doubt, for as the Saviour himself said,
‘And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’(John 8:32)
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe every man can receive personal revelation just like our first latter-day prophet Joseph Smith did. (James 1:5) We also have not only the Bible as scripture but the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. We also have men chosen by God to be His messengers, His living prophets to guide us today. The words and teachings of these prophets are readily available on the Church website, lds.org.