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I have a colleague who once asked me how I could believe in God when the scientific method has provided so much evidence against the existence of a higher power. I was rather surprised by his comment. My response, which I thought should be obvious to any scientist, was that if we follow the scientific method of hypothesis formulation and testing, the most absurd hypothesis that a scientist could make is that the Earth and the universe just happened by chance. It has too much order and detail to have come about without the guidance of some force that science has yet to identify. I also mentioned that science overlooks a vast array of evidence by denying or ignoring spiritual evidences.

Through my career I have studied minerals and water in clays, soils, and sediments. The more I learn, the more I realize that I (and I believe science in general) know only the smallest fraction of all that is to be known about the Earth, the life that is upon it, and the vast expanse of the Universe. One need look no further than water, one of the simplest of all molecules—H2O—to recognize the genius in nature. All other known liquid substances become more dense (heavier per unit volume) when they are frozen or turn to their solid form. But water is different; it becomes less dense or lighter when it freezes. Were this not true, ice that forms during winter on rivers, lakes, and oceans would sink to the bottom rather than float, and would remain there forever, being shielded by the overlying water from the warming sun of summer. The Earth would freeze over. Another example of the wonder of water is that it can form “loose” bonds (called hydrogen bonds) with other water molecules. When three water molecules are thus joined, they match exactly the surface configuration of oxygen ions, which form the surfaces of clay minerals (clay minerals are ubiquitous in soils, sediments, and geologic deposits), which in turn causes the water to become well associated with the mineral surfaces. This association (known as epitaxy) lowers the freezing temperature of the water film that coats the mineral surfaces to 50 degrees below zero or more, thus causing this water fraction to remain unfrozen in the soil even in the depths of the coldest winters. This enables dormant plants and organisms to survive the winter. Is such order in something as lowly as “dirt” achieved by chance, or does it signify a greater intelligence in its design? This evidence leads my scientific mind to believe that the latter is more likely to be true than the former.

My faith and belief in God, however, are not based on the scientific evidence; they are only reinforced by it. Through experience I have learned, for example, that when I pray in faith, God answers my prayers. This has strengthened my faith. His answers come in various forms and at various times. I have felt and heard that still small voice spoken of in scriptures, and have recognized truth revealed by it. I have a great feeling of gratitude for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, for the comfort and inspiration it provides me. In some matters my faith has been sustained so much and so consistently that it leads me to say with confidence that it will always be so. Paraphrasing President Gordon B. Hinckley, my faith is secured by these things that I know.

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Born in Rexburg, Idaho, Joseph William Stucki was educated at Ricks College, Brigham Young University (B.S., chemistry), Utah State University (M.S., soil chemistry), and Purdue University (Ph.D., physical chemistry of clays and soils). He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in 1976, and is now Emeritus Professor of Clay Colloid Chemistry there.

The author of roughly 130 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Dr. Stucki has served since 2008 as editor-in-chief of The Clay Minerals Society, publisher of Clays and Clay Minerals. He is a fellow of both the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy, a Marilyn and Sturgis W. Bailey Distinguished Member of The Clay Minerals Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the winner of that society’s George Brown Lecture Award, and an Honorary University Professor of Natural Science at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Stucki served as a missionary in Brazil for two years, as bishop of the Champaign Illinois Second Ward for six years, and as president of the Champaign Illinois Stake for nine years, and currently serves as second counselor in the presidency of the St. Louis Missouri Temple.

Professor Stucki and his wife, the former Penny Jo Nickel, were married in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of six children and the grandparents of seventeen. He served for fifteen years on the local public school board, including one term as secretary of the board and two terms as its president.

Posted September 2010