Home / Testimonies / Daniel W. Graham

The only way I know how to express my testimony adequately is to be somewhat autobiographical and personal.

I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. My mother was a Latter-day Saint from Ogden, Utah, my father a non-believer from Portland, Oregon. My twin brother John and I were raised in the Church, but we did not attend all our church meetings. There were not many Latter-day Saints in the eastern United States at the time, and we attended a small branch that met in rented halls, which eventually grew into a small ward. I recall that even when I was young I believed in the Church and I was deeply impressed with the leaders and teachers I had. My father was a good man, and broad-minded on many things, but he did not like to discuss religion. He had been raised an Episcopalian, but he had long since abandoned any religious beliefs. He was a ship captain, who sailed on regular voyages to south and east Africa; he had a few passengers on his freighter, some of whom were missionaries for various churches, and he had found it best to avoid the topic of religion altogether.

My family made regular summer trips to visit relatives out west. My uncle, my mother’s older brother Rodney Schaer, was a faithful church member and the patriarch of the family. On one trip while John and I were riding in his car, he told us it would be a good thing for us to be ordained in the priesthood. We were about sixteen at the time and had not been ordained, although it is usual for boys to receive the priesthood at twelve years. This suggestion stayed with both of us when we returned home. We talked to our mother, who said she would talk to our father about it—because we were shy about this. He told her that was fine with him, as long as it was our idea. He did not want us to be forced to go to church as he had been as a boy.

Subsequently, we talked to our bishop and were ordained deacons. One Sunday when I had been attending to my priesthood duties—which was a pleasure after years of feeling left out—I had a powerful experience. I echo the words of Mormon: “And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15). I believe I was sixteen at the time, but the rest is true of me. I felt the love of God flowing into me and knew he was pleased with my offering. That same day the bishop called me to the second office of the priesthood, to be a teacher. My brother and I became anxiously engaged in church service. A few months later, our ward began to build our own chapel. At the time there was a program whereby chapels could be built almost wholly by volunteer labor from the members. John and I spent almost the whole summer working on the chapel, and much time after school in the fall and winter until the building was completed. The experience of working side by side with the faithful church members was a unique experience which I can only relate to my later experience of attending the temple. Each day we heard religious experiences and expressions of faith from church members, and saw the chapel rise out of the ground to be completed. At the end of our work the apostle Harold B. Lee, later president of the Church, came to dedicate the building.

I went away to college in North Carolina, while my brother went to Brigham Young University. Davidson College, a school sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, provided a positive religious environment. My best friends were Catholic, Episcopalian, and Southern Baptist, and all were supportive of my religion. At times I attended their churches, as well as Methodist and Presbyterian services. (My best friends in Maryland were Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic.) I learned valuable lessons from religion classes at Davidson, and from compulsory Chapel services once a week. But I also learned that the liberal Protestantism of the college could not match the faith I already had and was still cultivating, though I had to travel seventeen miles to church in Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet with the saints. After my father’s retirement my parents moved to El Paso, Texas, where my brother and I attended church in the summers. We met some wonderful members, including many families who had fled to El Paso early in the twentieth century from the Mormon Colonies in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, to escape the civil war that was going on in that country.

John and I wanted to go on missions, but our father was opposed to our leaving college before we had graduated (hoping we would eventually lose interest). We honored his wishes, but as graduation time approached, we talked to our respective bishops, who said we should consult with our parents to see if they would help support us financially. I called John at BYU, who said he had received the same advice. Then I called our parents in El Paso. My mother said it just so happened that our home teachers were visiting (my father was happy to visit with them as long as they didn’t talk religion). Our home teacher had brought over his son, who had just returned from a mission in Central America, and who gave an enthusiastic report of his experiences. She went in to talk to my father, and came back to the phone to say my father had just agreed to support us both fully on our missions. A few months later I was called to the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission, and my brother to the neighboring Central American Mission (which covered the other four countries of Central America—and was the same mission our home teacher’s son had served in).

We both had wonderful missions among the often poor but spiritually receptive people of Central America. Our parents enjoyed hearing of our experiences from weekly letters. From at least that time on, our father had warm feelings about the Church, although he continued to avoid talking about religion. A month or so after we returned, my father got a letter from the shipping company which had employed him for over twenty-five years. They said the executives had been talking about their retired captains, and when the company president recalled what a good captain my father was, he asked how much pension they were paying him. When an accountant told him, he said, “That’s not enough.” He doubled my father’s pension on the spot and made it retroactive for two years. The company sent a large check to him with the letter. My mother said, “That is the boys’ mission money coming back to you.” My father continued to receive a double pension for the rest of his life.

After my mission I was blessed with a good-paying but lonely job as the office manager for construction projects for El Paso Natural Gas. As I was driving up to Washington State on my first assignment, I drove through Provo, Utah. I had a powerful feeling that I needed to go to school there. I applied to graduate school at BYU. In January of 1973 I enrolled in BYU. I took courses in ancient Greek (I had begun studying Greek as a senior, and had taken my Greek New Testament on my mission to study). I felt the hand of the Lord blessing me as I had doors opened to me. I met my wife, Diana Summerhays, in a Greek class my first semester, which opened a whole new world to me. We were married in the fall of 1973 while her father was serving as the mission president in Ireland. After graduating with an M.A. in Classics in 1975, I spent a year in Athens, Greece, studying archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies, which is the American archaeological institute in Greece. In Athens I had prayed about which of two schools to attend to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, and received a strong impression to go to the University of Texas at Austin, where I accordingly enrolled. I later talked to a recent graduate of the other university I was considering, who was visiting the University of Texas, and he told me that the program at my university was far superior to the one at his alma mater.

When I began my program at Texas, I worried that I would be too rusty. Between my undergraduate and graduate philosophy studies were a mission, a master’s degree in classics, and a year of studying archaeology. I also would be busy with church assignments and meetings whereas my fellow students would have nothing but free time. However, I quickly began to find, to my own amazement, that I was a star student in my classes. Many of my colleagues with the additional free time were spending their weekends partying and coming in hung over on Mondays. I also noted that when I asked what I feared was a dumb question in a seminar, everyone else got out their pens and wrote madly in their notebooks because they were just as ignorant as I. I seemed to them to have more confidence just because I asked. But most of all, just the discipline of doing assignments, meeting deadlines, and facing problems—skills I had learned on my mission—gave me an edge on many students with better training and more time to study.

But I was blessed in other ways as well. In my first semester I took a class on Aristotle that gave me the idea for my dissertation research. From then on, I looked for topics for papers in other classes that would help me further my research for the dissertation. When it was time for the dissertation, I wrote mine in a year and had it approved, finishing at least a year ahead of anyone else in my cohort (while roughly half of the group never finished at all). Throughout my graduate career and ever since I have felt blessed with ideas that pointed me in the direction of valuable research. My first book, for instance, grew out of a single footnote in my dissertation. I have had to organize the research, make the arguments, and so on, but even then, I have found that new ideas came to help confirm the ideas I had started with.

How can a philosopher believe in God? I believe, not because of philosophical arguments, but because of my own experiences. Yet one thing that impresses me is the way in which the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ make sense of everything. They tell us why we are here on earth, where we came from, and where we are going after this life. In short, they explain the meaning of life—something most philosophers have long ago given up trying to do. Moreover, they answer the great philosophical challenges to believing in God, most notably the Problem of Evil: how can a good, all-powerful, all-knowing God produce a world with so much evil in it? If this world is all there is, the question is unanswerable. But if this life is a probation, a time of testing, then the evil serves a purpose in trying and building our character. And if there is a better world, how can we judge the value of life by this world only?

But why should we believe in another world, and in the providential governance of this world? How can we find God in a world with so much confusion? If Christianity is true, the question is really misguided. The question should rather be: how can God find us? If he put us here to find the truth, he wants to teach it to us. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a missionary church. It has good news to share with everyone who will hear. “How then,” asks St. Paul, “shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14-15). And who will send the missionaries? Someone who knows God and is called by him to direct his church. That is why there must be apostles and prophets. The Church of Jesus Christ is a church led by apostles and prophets.

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of [Jesus Christ],” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24). Isn’t it wonderful, that mortals should see and converse with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, in our own time? Isn’t that good news like the message the early apostles carried with them? They had not only associated with Jesus of Nazareth during his mortal ministry, but beheld him and associated with him after his resurrection. Even St. Paul, who was going about persecuting Christians, met the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus.

I think all Christians believe God is active in the world in some way, that in some sense his kingdom is on the earth. What most don’t know is that he has set up a kingdom as it was in ancient times, with his chosen servants to communicate his pure teachings and to baptize using his authority. It is vital that there should be special witnesses raised up in our times. For not only the enemies of religion but many professors of religion themselves have been busy impeaching the testimonies found in the Bible, for over a century. At a distance of two millennia and more, the narratives of the Bible have come to be seen by many commentators as just pious fictions. The best corroboration for the Bible would be for modern prophets to come forth who have met the risen Lord like Paul did on the road to Damascus. That would prove the ancient scriptures by reaffirming their message with the same authority the ancient apostles had.

I have a personal witness that this is true. God has whispered his truths to me, and he can whisper them to you. Jesus Christ lives. He is risen! He has conquered death for all of us. Furthermore, he has sent his authorized servants to gather all who will into his kingdom. That is the good news for our time. I just had to share it with you.

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Daniel W. Graham (Ph.D., University of Texas), currently chairs the Department of Philosophy at Brigham Young University, where he is also A. O. Smoot Professor of Philosophy. Prior to joining the faculty at BYU, he taught at Grinnell College in Iowa and at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. He has also been a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge and a visiting professor at Yale University.

Dr. Graham has published numerous books and academic articles, among which are Aristotle’s Two Systems (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press, 1987); ed., Studies in Greek Philosophy, by Gregory Vlastos, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); Aristotle Physics Book VIII (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press, 1999); with Victor Miles Caston, ed., Presocratic Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alexander Mourelatos (Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002); Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of Scientific Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); and, with Patricia Curd, The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Recently, Professor Graham published The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), which author and critic George Steiner, writing in the (London) Times Literary Supplement, called “a monumental feat.”

Posted July 2011