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My father once told me as a lad that regardless of what I studied, I would always, always, reach a place in my learning where I would have to take a leap of faith. Whether considering science, religion, or whatever, there would always come a point, he said, where people must act on faith if they are to progress in their knowledge.

I rejected that. Such an approach was for people without great reasoning capacity. Surely this “faith” he spoke of was an excuse for the unskilled, uneducated, or lazy. I did not want to “confess faith,” I wanted to know truth! So I became a scientist, an astronomer. But I remained a religious scholar too, testing its tenets constantly in my mind, trying to separate faith from fact and reason. I have approached science the same way, always trying to separate speculation from that which is truly known. Along the way a few simple truths have emerged, and not always ones I expected.

I was wrong. Like it or not (and I did not like it), faith is the foundation of all progress in this world, scientific progress included. We have faith in what others have discovered. We have faith in what we are taught. We have faith in what our senses perceive. We have faith in reason itself. Everyone in this world walks by faith, even if they are not aware of it. At the moment called birth we awoke to discover we were living, sentient beings, but ones that knew nothing. Learning from scratch from that moment on, we have had no choice but to have faith. The only choice we have is where we place it.

I have not always had the amount of faith I should have had in both science and religion. One example is black holes. Black holes seem so unphysical that I—and many astronomers—doubted their reality until science teams imaging the center of the Milky Way galaxy proved unequivocally that there has to be something of great gravitational strength and small size there. This does not prove that the current description of black holes is absolutely correct. But we are clearly on the right track.

Should I have faith in black holes? After all, I do not understand general relativity deeply enough to derive them nor did I obtain the evidence of their reality. Yes, I accept them as real because I have faith in the integrity of those who did the work and in the methods they used and in the results they obtained.

Astrophysics is learned only with effort and so is the gospel. As a young missionary getting ready to preach Jesus Christ to non-Christian Japan, I took a month before leaving to carefully read the New Testament. But I read it from the perspective of a Pharisee. “Who is this man Jesus Christ? How can I accept such a preposterous claim as his being the Son of God?” In this frame of mind I encountered Matthew 9: 5-7 and paused at the withering logic laid out in those verses. Confronting people who thought him a dangerous fool for saying that a crippled man’s sins were forgiven, the Savior simply states “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.” What could be more plain than that?

Now should I have faith in Matthew’s account of this miracle and the notion that this one man, greater than us all, forgives sins? After all, I was not there and did not witness it and know little of how it was even recorded. Yes, I accept Jesus Christ as real because I have faith in the integrity of those who knew him and in the truthfulness of their witness. But further, I have tried to follow his teachings and learn for myself of the forgiveness of sins. I am amazed at what this continues to teach me.

I feel the same way regarding the Book of Mormon. No unskilled lad could have written it. The simplest explanation is that it was translated by the power of God. I feel the same way regarding modern prophets. I believe Joseph Smith spoke the truth. I believe modern prophets speak the
truth.

At this point in my life I no longer care to test the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The debate for me is over. I now only want to live it and reap the benefits from so doing.

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J. Ward Moody received a B.S. in physics from BYU in 1980 and a PhD in astronomy from The University of Michigan in 1986. He spent four months as a research fellow at the University of Michigan Space Physics Research Laboratory and two years as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of New Mexico Institute for Astrophysics. After teaching for two years at Weber State University, he joined the BYU Physics and Astronomy faculty in 1990. An accomplished instructor, he coauthored the text book Physical Science Foundations and has received the Alcuin Award and the Karl G. Maeser General Education Professorship, both for excellence in general education instruction.

Dr. Moody is the author or coauthor of over 100 publications in astronomy and astrophysics, mainly on galaxy large-scale organizational structure in low-density volumes and active galactic nuclei. He is credited for pioneering the use of galaxies with emission as probes of larger structures. He is mainly known for his work in astronomical research publications, having served six years as the managing editor of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, the world’s largest publisher of astronomical conference proceedings. He currently serves on the publication board of the American Astronomical Society, which oversees the publication of The Astrophysical Journal and The Astronomical Journal, two of the most influential and prestigious astronomical research publications in the world.

Posted January 2011