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All my life I’ve understood the importance of pursuing education. Though I haven’t always been diligent in that pursuit, the desire to learn all I can became firmly rooted in me in my post-secondary education. I devoted myself to my studies, and then my education really began. My educational path has been unusual. I’ve received a Bachelor of Arts in economics, a law degree, and a Master’s degree in economics and finance, and am close to completing a PhD in economics. Though my student career has been long, I have not regretted any of my education. It is a privilege to learn.

I have been exposed to many secular environments—the legal community, academia, government agencies, and the corporate world. I have become acquainted with professionals and academics, mingled in their social circles, and made a variety of contacts. The academic environment that I now study and work in is very different from my family and religious life. At times it feels that I live in two separate worlds, and they can be difficult to reconcile with each other.

As an academic and economist I must be critical of assertions or claims made by others, and even those made by myself. I can accept nothing unless I first challenge it from a contrarian standpoint. I have been taught mathematical and statistical methods, as well as skills in critical reasoning, logic, and analysis. All of this is needed to assess the validity of any statement or claim. I also use it to develop new theories and new ways of explaining behavior and economic phenomena. In this way, the body of knowledge in the field of economics is expanded and refined.

It is common for previously accepted theories or principles to be modified or replaced. For example, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, while viewed as a seminal work, is rarely even mentioned in modern economics courses. Despite the ever-expanding set of tools for theoretical development and testing, nothing is certain. Economics has a unique challenge in that there is no laboratory in which controlled experiments can be conducted. All tests and analyses must be conducted by study of the real world, in which it is impossible to control for every possible influence on the issue being studied. What may be true in one setting is not true in another. The reasons why aren’t always clear. As a result, there are no certainties, and no fundamental truths.

Because of our dependence on the real-life laboratory, economists must make assumptions. They are used to isolate the phenomenon we are trying to explain. They are an artificial means of holding the rest of the world constant. There’s a story of three men—a chemist, a physicist, and an economist—stranded on an island. One day as they walked along the beach they came across a can of pineapple. Hungry, they immediately set to figuring out how to get the can open. “Just give me a few minutes,” said the physicist. “I’ll calculate the angle and force with which to throw the can against that rock so that the can will pop open.” The chemist shook his head. “You might spill the pineapple all over the sand. Let me get some seawater and scrapings from some rocks back near our camp, and I’ll make an acid to eat through the can.” Before the two scientists could start arguing, the economist piped up, “Gentlemen, why don’t we just assume a can opener?”

An economic principle or theory can stand or fall on the assumptions it makes. The economist in the story makes an unreasonable assumption, one that in no way reflects real life. The strongest theories either use assumptions that are not material to the end result, or use assumptions that are observable or testable.

My academic life, then, is shrouded by relativism and a lack of truth. It would be easy to slip into this perspective in every aspect of life, not just my academic endeavors. Many of my colleagues accept nothing as certain, and believe life must be lived according to one’s own desires without reference to any external standard other than what is legally or ethically permissible. It is rare to find any religious belief, because it generally proves unsatisfactory when critically assessed from an academic standpoint.

So what is a nice Mormon boy like me doing with these guys? After all, I actually believe in angels and gold plates that were translated by an uneducated farm-boy with his face in a hat. Do I really accept these and the other claims made by the LDS Church as facts, or, desperate for religious meaning, am I “assuming there is a can opener”? This is something I have had to ask myself, and to answer with integrity. But just as economists, including me, can see the results of operative causes we cannot see or fully understand, I have seen the results of faith and the power of God in my life.

But maybe Buddha is doing it. Why Christ? And among many Christian fragments, why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

First, it makes sense. If there really is a spiritual life, the doctrine of Jesus Christ makes sense. It answers the fundamental questions of mankind. What are these questions? Suppose you started watching a television show you’ve never seen before in the middle of an episode. What are the first things you’d want to know? (a) Who are these people? (b) How did they get to where they are? (c) Why are they doing what they’re doing? (d) What’s going to happen? Every person at one time or another faces these same four questions concerning our own existence:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where did I come from?
  3. Why am I here?
  4. What will happen when I die?

The doctrine of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, answers these questions more satisfactorily and with more power than any other explanation I’ve seen.

Second, I have witnessed the power of the atonement in my own life and in the lives of others. The atonement and the need for one are unique to Christian theology. They are particularly central to Mormon theology. I have seen those in utmost despair and pain turn to Jesus Christ and be healed spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It is a miracle, every time. I have felt the pain of sin and the joy of forgiveness. I have received the Lord’s merciful care.

I served in the California Roseville Mission. As I entered my second year I became increasingly ill. It was difficult to do the work I was called to do. But I remembered something taught to me in the Missionary Training Center: We cannot come to know the Lord if we are never in need of his succor. I held on to that, and pled with the Lord in constant prayer to help me. My condition continued to worsen and the work became harder and harder. But the Lord sustained me. I was not healed. But through my suffering I came to know the Lord. Though I cannot explain how I know, I can tell you I know He is real. I know Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I know He came to redeem those faithful to Him.

All these experiences have come after diligent application of the principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Mormon has brought me closer to God than any other book. I have spoken with Him in prayer, and He has answered. Though I don’t fully understand how, I know He has. My testimony of and faith in Jesus Christ has brought certainty into my life, a firm foundation of truth. In a world of moral relativism, uncertainty, and drift, this foundation has become an anchor to my soul. So not because of, but in spite of, my education, I have this testimony, and by the grace of God I will not depart from it. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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R. McKay White earned a BA (with honours) in Economics, a law degree (LL.B), and an MA in Economics and Finance, all from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he is currently finishing a Ph.D. in Economics. He has served at various times as an instructor, research assistant, teaching assistant, and researcher at the University, and, in 2009, presented a substantial paper to the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) on the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Co., a financial institution whose 1837 failure played a significant role in the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is married to Paula, and they have four children—Cassi, Lucy, Kellie, and Charlie. His interests include photography and playing the piano.

Posted December 2010